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Committee supports tougher inspections of hazardous industries

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Archive video from October 2012.

Winnipeg is moving closer to imposing tougher inspection rules for hazardous industries.

A civic committee this morning supported tougher inspections, which were prompted by the Oct. 1, 2012 massive fire and explosion at a plant in a St. Boniface industrial park.

"It’s definitely a step in the right direction," said Coun. Dan Vandal, the area councillor who urged city hall to take action to prevent a repeat of the 2012 fire.

"Ideally, in the long term, we want to put distance between where people live and where the high hazard industrial sites are."

The new procedures still must be approved by city council.

The new rules were outlines in an administrative report to the protection and community services committee.

As first reported Friday by the Free Press, the report recommends the start of regular annual inspections of 300 businesses across the city, to seek out operators which pose serious safety threats, bringing them into compliance or shutting them down.

"It’s important for us to take a look at new measures to ensure we have inspections… and are able to identify these hazardous types of properties before another (fire) occurs," said Janet Bier, an assistant chief with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and director of fire prevention.

Right now, the fire department only inspects hazardous plants when it receives complaints or an issue is raised by firefighters after making a call.

In addition to the annual inspections, the report recommends hiring an additional full time inspector within the fire department, whose job would be to carry out the inspections.

Even though the city had been reviewing the Speedway fire for more than a year, the hiring of the additional inspector was not proposed in the 2014 budget.

The report proposes that the salary and benefits for the new inspector would be covered by a new inspection fee charges to hazardous business, which would typically generate $450 from each inspection.

It was early in the evening of Oct. 1, 2010 when the St. Boniface neighbourhood was rocked by a series of explosions when a tanker truck containing 75,000 litres of methanol exploded at the Nicolas Avenue site.

The explosion sent a fireball and thick black smoke 800 metres into the sky. Nearby residents were evacuated. No one was hurt.

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

Bier told reporters that she believed the Speedway fire was an isolated incident, adding that most industries are in compliance.

"Generally, business owners want to be in compliance," Bier said.

Vandal said the tougher inspections procedures will help prevent another recurrence of the Speedway fire.

"What we’ve approved today is much improved over where we were a year ago," Vandal said.

Bier said giving the businesses notice about the inspections would likely ensure they bring themselves into compliance with existing regulations.

Businesses found breaching regulations will be given time to make the necessary changes, Bier said.

"We will work with the building owner to come into compliance, work on what they need to correct…. and give them enough time to make that correction," Bier said.

Bier said the inspections will help detect those firms which are improperly using rail cars to store hazardous materials, adding those businesses will be forced to find alternative storage.

The city has identified more than 250 plans and businesses across the city that have been issued high hazard permits and those would be subject to the new inspection process.

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

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