Agricultural exemption dropped for boiler inspection

The change most affects greenhouse and mushroom growers and some syrup producers

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Agricultural operations using boilers and pressure vessels have until March 1, 2021 to register their equipment with the arms-length provincial government agency the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), following the lifting of an exemption on July 17.

The equipment will also now require TSSA inspections.

Why it matters: TSSA registration and inspection adds another level of red tape to farm management, meaning extra time spent and an additional annual fee.

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The change, announced by Minister of Government and Consumer Services Lisa Thompson, came in response to concerns expressed by the TSSA about the exemption for agricultural operations — such as greenhouses, mushroom farms, maple syrup producers and wineries — and subsequently highlighted in a 2018 report from the province’s auditor.

“The TSSA was the one who initiated this,” says The Ontario Greenhouse Alliance (TOGA) president Jan VanderHout, in an interview with Farmtario.

Operator of a greenhouse near Waterdown, VanderHout added that TOGA appreciates the collaborative approach taken by the provincial government and TSSA as the change was considered.

He said discussions began in late 2016, well before the 2018 auditor’s report. And the resulting regulatory amendment, he believes, is the right combination of “effective and beneficial” to the public good, along with “doable and practical” for the farm sector.

“Anytime you get government involved, you’re going to get more paperwork,” says Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association (OMSPA) President Brian Bainborough. The Gore Bay sugarbush operator added, however, that the change will not threaten the livelihood of any syrup producers. Those using steam, he noted, are relatively small in number but tend to be large in scale — and the annual cost for registration and inspection “is not onerous.”

VanderHout believes TSSA compliance should fit seamlessly into greenhouse growers’ existing equipment maintenance schedules.

The 2018 report, available on the auditor’s website, notes Ontario is the only province in which agricultural operations are exempt from boiler registration and inspection. It suggests the exemption means agricultural-site boilers “pose a safety risk to the public greater than the risk of other pressure equipment installations in Ontario.” The report also cites information from “one large insurer” that, between 2015 and mid-2017, “six boilers exploded at agricultural sites” in the province.

Both Bainborough and VanderHout insist the likelihood of such an incident is very small, due to the care taken by almost all growers in both the syrup and greenhouse sectors. Indeed, because steam evaporators for sap are used for such a short season and typically in remote locations away from the general public, the OMSPA would have liked to see the exemption remain for the syrup sector. “But I think the pressure was on (the TSSA) to include everyone,” Bainborough said.

VanderHout referred to the lifting of the exemption as “a backstop to catch that unusual outlier” — a greenhouse grower who isn’t keeping up with maintenance or inspection either because they’re cutting corners financially, or they just aren’t aware of the risks.

Lifting the exemption means TSSA will now be able to force boiler owners to make necessary improvements — something the agency couldn’t do before. “I do think this has made the world a better place,” VanderHout said.

The TOGA president says there will be some education necessary to bring some greenhouse operators up to speed on the procedures and timelines for TSSA compliance. But he believes there will be minimal disruption or cost.

“Honestly, for the people who are doing the right things already, this shouldn’t make a difference.” And “if everything is the way that I understand it, there will be a negligible expense” to compliance.

The change doesn’t come into force until next year, meaning there’s time for OMSPA members to adjust. Bainborough is hopeful the Ministry and TSSA will remain open to input as the details of the regulation are finalized.

“They said they’ll work with us,” he said. “I guess we’ll see over the next year.”

About the author

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Stew Slater

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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