Emerging Risk: Ammonia Exposure

Maintaining a safe workplace around the clock

When Earth’s Own Food Company Inc workers on Annacis Island go home for the weekend they know they are coming back to a safe workplace.

Earth’s Own produces plant-based beverages, such as almond, oat and soy milks as well as fruit smoothies, which are heat pasteurized then cooled and packaged.

Earth’s Own uses its onsite store of 3,800 kilograms of ammonia as a refrigerant to keep the warehouse at a stable four degrees Celsius.

A fatal incident at an ice arena in BC recently resulted in increased enforcement emphasis on the use and storage of ammonia by WorkSafeBC.

John Sykes, Director of Operations says, “We have never had a leak due to our preventative and due diligence approach. The health of our workers has always been our core value. We have always worked to the highest standard and beyond; and we chose to do a major control upgrade in 2014, which has made it relatively easy to meet any problems noted.”

Earth’s Own ammonia exposure control plan starts with isolating all on-site ammonia, improving the ventilation system and increasing sensors monitoring the air quality 24/7. Only a properly equipped and trained engineer is allowed in the isolated ammonia compressor room.

An engineer is on-call from the time the plant closes until it reopens. The engineer is contacted if either security or refrigerant companies detect a measurable leak. An emission as small as 25 ppm is enough to trigger the alarms and safety protocols. On Sunday morning, the engineer approves the reopening of the plant.

“Over the years, we’ve become more aware of the hazards of breathing in even small amounts of ammonia. Technology has helped develop really good automated solutions.”

Earth’s Own has been able to respond positively and quickly to any regulatory or enforcement changes because it has a long history of following best industry practices and documenting all design changes and maintenance records. Workers are kept updated on changes through an active joint health and safety committee and participate in a full evacuation drill every six months.

To help companies using ammonia as part of their manufacturing processes, in March 2018, WorkSafeBC updated and reissued Ammonia in Refrigeration Systems which describes the hazards of ammonia and how to prevent and control exposure.