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Ontario Propane Safety Review Report

Archived Backgrounder

Ontario Propane Safety Review Report

Propane Review

Ministry of Consumer Services


On August 28, 2008 , Minister Takhar appointed Ms Susana Katz and Dr. Michael Birk to do a comprehensive safety review of legislative and regulatory framework for the storage, handling, location, and transport of propane in Ontario . The independent experts worked with the government, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), the propane industry, the municipal sector, other provinces, first responders, and other stakeholders to review the current propane-related regulatory environment. Their review focused on the Technical Standards and Safety Act, 2000, and Ontario 's regulations compared with internationally recognized best practices.

The independent experts found that propane is a safe fuel when properly handled.   Ontario's propane regulatory environment has many safeguards in place designed to prevent problems from occurring and limit the consequences if they should occur. However, regulatory improvement in some areas could further enhance safety.

Propane industry in Ontario

In Ontario , more than 300,000 businesses and households, many in rural areas, use propane as a fuel on a permanent basis. In urban areas, the last stop before consumption is often a filler station that provides propane to barbecue cylinders and vehicle fuel tanks. In recent years, cylinder exchange facilities ? cages containing filled barbecue tanks ? where consumers swap empty tanks for full ones have become increasingly common.

This makes for a large and varied distribution network. In all, roughly 5,800 storage facilities are licensed for propane storage in Ontario , ranging in size from small cylinder exchanges to large installations storing more than 100,000 U.S. water gallons (USWG). It is estimated that about 5,000 people are employed in the propane industry in Ontario at the retail level alone.

Regulatory model

The province delegates the responsibility for day-to-day enforcement of propane regulations to the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). The Ministry, however, retains authority for the Act and regulations.

TSSA is a not-for-profit corporation that regulates a number of industries on behalf of the Province. TSSA was formed in 1997 and carries out its delegated responsibilities under an agreement with the Ministry.

Although TSSA has the largest role in propane safety in Ontario , other regulatory bodies are also involved, such as:

  • Ontario municipalities determine the uses of land within their boundaries through such instruments as zoning bylaws and official plans. 
  • The Transport of Dangerous Goods Directorate within Transport Canada regulates the transport of propane and other hazardous substances in Canada. 
  • Regulations under the federal Canadian Environmental Protection Act require operators of facilities storing or using large amounts of propane to file information about the facility with Environment Canada and to prepare an environmental emergency plan.

The independent experts determined that Ontario compared favourably with other provinces.   For example, Ontario's setback distances exceed those found in the rest of Canada and follow common technical standards found in the Canadian Standards Association?s model national Propane Safety Code. However, the independent experts noted that there are other jurisdictions ahead of Canada in several areas that touch on propane safety, and made recommendations in that regard.

Recommendations

The independent experts have submitted 40 recommendations.

Overall, they found that propane is safe when properly handled, stored, transported and used, but because of its physical characteristics all of these activities involve risk. In this respect, propane is similar to many other products we use on a daily basis.

To help the industry ensure a high level of safety, the propane safety system provides requirements and guidance in many areas: the design and installation of facilities, training and certification of workers, and inspection and enforcement. Together, these functions create multiple safe guards ? a system with back-ups and extra layers, so that small problems do not escalate into major incidents.

To enhance propane safety in Ontario, the independent experts are recommending the following improvements.

1.          TSSA should continue to build on its existing risk-based enforcement model by introducing a more rigorous, statistical approach for propane safety.  

2.          TSSA should inspect facilities annually until it has gathered the required data, and has developed and is applying a comprehensive risk-based approach to regulation.  

3.          For the purposes of licensing a facility, the total capacity should include both fixed and transient storage, with the second element defined as the combined capacity of the maximum number of stored cylinders and tanks, and of tanker trucks and/or rail tank cars that might stay at the facility at any given time for longer than it takes them to complete a transfer.

4.          A limit should be set on the maximum transient storage at a facility.

5.          The facility operator should be required to designate the parking spaces for transient tanker truck storage at a facility.

6.          Every facility at which transfer of propane takes place should have a risk and safety management plan as a condition of licensing.

7.         Certification by a professional engineer should be required for all risk and safety management plans for facilities of more than 30,000 USWG in total capacity.

8.         When reviewing an operator?s risk and safety management plan, TSSA should verify that it includes all relevant requirements.

9.         TSSA should continue to invest in the technology needed to improve the quality and value of data on the location of propane facilities and those handling other volatile fuels, with a specific goal of allowing these facilities and related defined hazard distances to be mapped using geographical information system (GIS) technology.

10.       TSSA should make available to municipalities and planning boards the locations of facilities and the defined hazard distance around each, either as maps or, if the community prefers, GIS data.

11.       TSSA should make publicly available sections of the risk and safety management plan dealing with emergency response for facilities of more than 30,000 USWG in total capacity.

12.       As a condition of licensing, the operator should be required to review the risk and safety management plan on the same cycle as TSSA's inspection cycle. This review should assess whether land development within the defined hazard distance has increased the risks relating to the facility and the plan should be upgraded as required.

13.       When a licence is first issued for a facility, the licence approval should state specifically that if land development around the facility changes so as to increase risk, it is the responsibility of the operator to reassess and, if necessary, upgrade special mitigation measures.

14.        The Province should amend planning rules to require municipalities and local appeal bodies to notify facility operators of applications for official plan amendments, plans of subdivision, rezoning and minor variances where the facility's defined hazard distance extends into the area under consideration for change.

15.       An application to TSSA for a licence for a new or expanded facility should not be considered complete until the fire service has received and approved all components of the risk and safety management plan that address fire safety, protection and emergency considerations.

16.       Before commissioning a new or expanded facility, the proponent should be required to contact the local fire service for a walk-through with the aim of familiarization.

17.       An application to TSSA for a licence for a new facility or an expansion should not be considered complete until the proponent receives and includes the comments of the relevant local planning authority.

18.       Training requirements should be extended to include at least one officer, director or partner of every propane operator and licence holder.

19.       Certificate holders should have to produce proof of their training on demand.

20.       Certificate holders should receive site-specific training when starting work and after changing employers or facilities, and should be re-certified after being away from the job for a significant period of time.

21.       Every person who works at a facility should be trained in the facility's emergency procedures.

22.       The training curriculum for certificate holders should cover the consequences of incorrect handling, storage or transport of propane, including the impact of major fires and explosions. It should also cover emergency procedures.

23.       TSSA should set a three-year review schedule for training providers and as part of this process the training provider should review the curriculum, update it if necessary and submit it to TSSA.

24.       Trainers should be required to have hands-on, practical experience as well as theoretical knowledge of the subject areas they teach.

25.       The Office of the Fire Marshal should enhance its training for fire department personnel in the areas of prevention, mitigation and suppression of propane explosions and fires.

26.      Propane facility inspectors should be trained in all aspects of propane safety, including how to recognize and respond to imminent hazards.

27.      TSSA, Office of the Fire Marshal, industry and others with an interest in the industry's safety should work together on a public safety and awareness program.

28.      As part of the code adoption process or if considering changes to other regulatory instruments, TSSA should consult with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Ontario municipalities.

29.      There should be formal agreements in place so that such authorities as the Province's Office of the Fire Marshal, Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, Ministry of Labour, and TSSA share information, findings and any recommendations with all parties with an interest in propane safety.

30.      TSSA and provincial, municipal and other investigative authorities should create a cross-jurisdictional incident database, aggregating information on causes of incidents, lessons learned, and recommended preventative steps.

31.      Propane operators should be required to carry insurance as a condition of licensing.

32.      When there is an imminent hazard to safety, and the facility operator will not or cannot act to correct it, TSSA inspectors should have the full and clear authority to ensure that the installation is made safe and to charge back the costs to the operator.

33.      Operators should be required to keep records to demonstrate on-going maintenance and operational testing of fire safety equipment and systems.

34.      Fire services should have clear authority to enter licensed propane facilities for familiarization purposes and/or to verify proper maintenance of fire protection equipment.

35.      In light of these recommendations, TSSA should review its current code adoption document, directors' orders and branch standards, with a view to updating these as necessary.

36.      The Ministry should consider approaches similar to those recommended here for propane for all liquid and gaseous fuels in use in the province to ensure that they also are covered by a best-practices regulatory framework.  

37.      The Ministry should review the progress of adoption and implementation of these recommendations within 18 months and report to the public, including the members of the Propane Safety Review.

38.      Once recommendations have been implemented, the Ministry and TSSA should review their impacts on a periodic basis with a view to making any further changes, if necessary, to improve propane safety and should inform the public, including the members of the Propane Safety Review.

39.     The Minister should ask Transport Canada to examine the potential benefits to public safety of thermal protection requirements for highway tank trucks similar to those for railway tank cars and regulations for safe parking of tank trucks, including such factors as setback and security.

40.      The Minister should ask the Canadian Standards Association to review and update the relevant sections of the propane installation code (B149.2 and B149.5) with a focus on setback distances, categories of installation, emergency response plans, maintenance, and special fire protection and to ensure the code aligns with international best practices.

For a copy of the Propane Safety Review Report, click here:

http://www.propanesafetyreview.ca/

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