WorkSafeBC completes investigation into tragic event at Fernie Memorial Arena in 2017

Published on: August 29, 2018

Richmond, B.C. — WorkSafeBC has completed its incident investigation report (IIR) into a catastrophic ammonia release at the Fernie Memorial Arena. On Oct. 17, 2017, three workers lost their lives while performing maintenance on ice-making equipment at the arena.

The primary purpose of WorkSafeBC’s investigation report is to identify the cause of the incident, including contributing factors, so that similar incidents can be prevented from happening in the future.

Cause of the incident

  • A pinhole developed in the refrigeration-system component, allowing for the intermixing of brine and ammonia, which compromised the refrigeration equipment.
  • When the compromised refrigeration equipment was put into service it failed, exposing three workers to a lethal concentration of ammonia.

Contributing factors include:

  • Occupational health and safety systems did not mitigate risks to workers.
  • Incident-response measures were not present.
  • The manufacturing process of the chiller tubes fostered corrosion.

The report notes that the curling-rink chiller was past its life expectancy. It had been in operation for approximately 30 years, while the industry norm for this design of chiller ranges from 20 to 25 years.

Prevention initiatives

WorkSafeBC has incorporated the findings of the investigation into its ongoing ammonia-related prevention efforts, including educating employers and contractors through targeted information sessions, outreach to municipal governments, online educational resources, and presentations to employer associations.

These prevention efforts are building on WorkSafeBC’s three-phase ammonia inspection initiative, which was launched throughout the province to address ammonia safety:

  • Phase one took place from November 2017 through January 2018, in collaboration with Technical Safety BC. All 223 arenas in the province were inspected, of which 181 arenas were using ammonia-based refrigeration systems.
  • Phase two of the inspection initiative focused on the activities of refrigeration contractors conducting installations, maintenance, and other activities involving ammonia systems.
  • Phase three is underway and is focusing on other industry sectors that use ammonia, such as food processing and industrial chemical manufacturing.

Next steps

In addition to determining the cause of an incident, the findings of a WorkSafeBC investigation may also result in enforcement action where violations of the Workers Compensation Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation have occurred. WorkSafeBC is currently considering the findings of the IIR to determine appropriate enforcement action.


For more information, contact:

Craig Fitzsimmons
Media Relations, WorkSafeBC
Tel: 604.276.5157