An investigation into an ammonia leak at a hockey arena in Fernie, B.C. and the resulting report released by Technical Safety BC (TSBC) on July 25 won’t bring back the three workers that died, but it does give considerable guidance to the industry to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
TSBC is to be commended for releasing all the information, readily accessible on its website. The engineering report on this tragedy, written by P&HVAC refrigeration columnist Greg Scrivener, who operates Cold Dynamics in Edmonton, is essential reading for anyone who works with ammonia refrigeration systems.
One of the report’s key recommendations is a need for specialized maintenance programs to deal with aging refrigeration equipment; maintaining these older systems and keeping them safe requires different steps and different practices than a new system. While this may be common sense to an experienced technician, current standards and regulations don’t seem to take the age of a system into account.
That’s just one of 18 recommendations in the report aimed at making ammonia refrigeration systems safer. There have been a few incidents with these refrigeration systems over the years, but by and large they have seemed fairly safe until the Fernie tragedy, where ammonia leaked into and pressurized the brine system. The weak link was a pipe coupling that was not designed to cope with that kind of pressure. It may have been the first such occurrence, but it won’t be the last unless steps are taken to prevent it. It’s up to the industry and maintenance personnel to ensure that programs are in place to upgrade ammonia systems as needed to keep them safe. The Fernie investigation report provides a road map.