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City considering mandatory hazardous industry inspections

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City hall plans to get tough with Winnipeg’s hazardous industries in the wake of an October 2012 massive explosion and fire at St. Boniface industrial park.

An administrative report recommends the city start regular inspections of 300 plants across the city to seek out operators that pose serious safety threats and bring them into compliance or shut them down.

The report is a dramatic turnaround from an October report that concluded city hall could do little from a planning point of view to protect residents from hazardous industries except encourage those industries to relocate to Winnipeg’s fringe area.

The new report, which goes to the protection and community services committee on Monday, proposes the city hire an additional fire prevention officer whose sole job is to inspect industries for violations of city bylaws, the Manitoba building code and the Manitoba fire code.

"I think this is a step in the right direction," said St. Boniface councillor Dan Vandal, who called on the civic administration to take action to prevent a repeat of the Speedway fire.

It was early in the evening of Oct. 1, 2012 when the St. Boniface neighbourhood was rocked by a series of explosions when a tanker truck containing 75,000 litres of methanol exploded at Speedway International’s plant on Nicolas Avenue.

The explosions sent a fireball and heavy black smoke 800 metres into the evening sky. Nearby residents were evacuated. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

The subsequent report and review by the city’s planning department found that Speedway International had 16 bylaw infractions but that many other hazardous industries in the area were likely avoiding provincial licensing and inspections and were probably breaching city bylaws.

The city knows that the province has licensed 16 heavy industries under the Environmental Act and identified a total of 39 firms as flammable/high hazard occupancy in the immediate area surrounding the Speedway International plant, known as the Mission Industrial Neighbourhood.

The new report identifies more than 250 plants and businesses across the city that have been issued high hazard permits and would be subject to the new inspections process.

Included in the list of industries are gas bars, furniture manufacturers, auto body shops, warehouses, and manufacturers.

The new report said that inspections of hazardous industries by officials from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is now done only on a complaint-driven basis, adding the department doesn’t have the staff to proactively inspect the plants.

The report notes that the province is planning to release an inspection schedule of hazardous industries by provincial inspectors but says it’s not known when provincial inspections will begin.

"It is clear that from the lessons learned from the fire of October 1, 2012 that a proactive and effective inspection process is required," states the administrative report.

The report proposes hiring a fire inspection officer effective July 1, who will conduct 300 industry inspections annually.

The cost of the new hire would be covered by a new high-hazard inspection fee, $150 per hour, charged to the industries.

The report estimates that each inspection would generate $450 in fees.

The city expects the annual cost of the new inspector would be about $66,000, including benefits, but adds that the new fee would generate $78,750 for the remainder of the year and $157,500 annually.

"Some of the high hazard occupancies may not be in compliance with the building code, fire code or other regulations, which may affect their ability to continue with current business processes," the report states, adding the city would give Winnipeg hazardous industries notice that they could be shutdown if found in violation.

"The objective of this process is to provide continued safety for the community, for industry, and for the environment, and to provide for a collaborative approach that will increase code and safety compliance and to ensure, as much as possible, the continued financial and economic viability of the industry," the report states.


Updated on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 6:20 PM CDT: Adds photo.

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