Starting now, until December 31, WorkSafeBC Prevention Officers will be conducting an inspection initiative focused on preventing workers from unsafe exposure to ammonia. Their focus is on recreational facilities such as skating or hockey arenas and curling rinks, where ammonia is commonly used as a refrigerant.
Exposure to ammonia can irritate or burn the skin and mucous membranes, or cause freezing injuries. Inhalation may result in respiratory distress, unconsciousness, or death. In high concentrations, ammonia is a fire and explosion hazard.
Workers most at risk are those working on the refrigeration system, including refrigeration operators and maintenance contractors. Others in the vicinity may also be at risk in the event of an emergency.
The objectives of this inspection initiative are to ensure:
- Workplaces have exposure control plans relating to ammonia, including written work procedures for the safe handling of toxic process gas.
- Workplaces have procedures for emergency response and rescue plans, including the safe evacuation of workers, and in some cases the public, in the event of exposure.
Part 6 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, sections 6.116 to 6.132 outline the requirements specific to toxic process gases including ammonia. Part 5 of the OHS Regulation outlines general requirements for all chemical and biological agents.
The following sections in particular relate to ammonia risks:
- Section 6.118 on risk assessment
- Section 6.119 on exposure control plan
- Section 6.127 on appropriate personal protective equipment, including the requirement to provide emergency escape respirators and for workers to wear the appropriate type of respirators when performing hazardous work
- Sections 5.48 to 5.59 on controlling exposure, including the requirements for an exposure control plan under section 5.54
WorkSafeBC have developed a new document entitled Employer Information for Ice Rinks and Recreational Facilities to go along with the Ammonia in Refrigeration Systems booklet that is currently being revised. They expect the new Ammonia in Refrigeration Systems booklet to be finalized in December, 2017.
WorkSafeBC has provided the following documents that are available to help employers understand their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation: