Editorial: Disaster averted

It could have been so much worse.

When the alarm sounded at Canature, a freeze-dried dog food manufacturer in Gloucester industrial park, last Wednesday morning, it was a signal to staff that something had gone wrong with the company’s refrigeration unit — that it was now leaking deadly ammonia.

The gas was contained in a vaccuum chamber, staff quickly evacuated the building, emergency services were called and roads around the business were closed to traffic.

Employees of nearby businesses were either evacuated or to told to shelter in place as firefighters ensured the gas was contained and began the slow and deliberate process of venting it safely away over the next 40 hours.

Everything worked just as it was supposed to and, happily, nobody was killed or injured.

But the threat was real, Township fire chief Russ Jenkins said Thursday

“Ammonia is a very hazardous product and it can be hazardous to your health. Anytime when it’s contained in an area where it can’t vent naturally, there’s going to be high concentrations, which will be hazardous to anyone entering.”

That’s precisely what happened in Fernie, where three workers died one year ago this month.

An investigation into the October 2017 tragedy in the East Kootenays revealed that a small hole in the aging brine chilling machine at the community’s ice rink was what led to the disaster.

In the Langley incident, the worst result was that some area businesses had to close and lost nearly two full days of operation, with at least one company reopening shortly after midnight Friday and scrambling to catch up once they’d been given the all clear.

We take for granted that the systems put in place to protect us from the potential hazards of our industrial living environment will work, but that’s only part of the picture. It’s the human factor that is dependably unpredictable.

Whether we’re ignoring the check engine light on our car or the fire alarm in our apartment building that seems to be going off constantly, we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to safety.

For Canature CEO John Milne, last week’s incident had an unexpected bright side

“From my perspective, there’s a silver lining in all of this,” he said, because it allowed the company a chance to test its procedures and protocols.

It’s far better to examine what went wrong when all the things that matter most went right. And at the end of the day, everyone got to go home.

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