Recently, I was reminded about the liability Facility Managers face and the responsibility they have at their facilities for safety.

I was talking to an FM who was leaving their building early recently, a rare treat. Just as the FM was stepping out of the building, a couple of occupants were coming down the sidewalk towards the building – and immediately the FM knew getting away early was no longer an option. Apparently the occupant had rented helium tanks to fill balloons for an upcoming event. The tanks were going to be kept at the building over night and picked up the following morning.

What caused the FM to stop is that they were approaching the building with a wheeled dolly carrying the loose compressed gas cylinders while also attempting to keep the cylinders from falling over. Neither of the cylinders had a valve cap.

The intent of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act is to promote safety while clearly outlining liability and responsibility. As we all know, an employer or owner of a workplace is liable and has a responsibility for the worker’s safety and has the duty to inform of unsafe safe practices and keep a workplace free of hazards. As the Facility Manager, you have a responsibility under the act and need to be concerned for the safety of people in the building. In this case it was because compressed gas cylinders are dangerous. One of the cylinders could have dropped and been launched, driven by the compressed gas, into the building, out the window or worse – into a person.

For me, the story brought back memories of when a subsidiary of a company I worked for lost a worker when a cylinder fell over, snapped the valve off and became a lethal projectile.

The FM stopped the occupants and discovered they had no idea about the precautions to take when handling this type of dangerous equipment, or even what the risks were. Even worst, the party supply store they got the cylinders from may have let them take the cylinders without providing appropriate safety information or ensuring they had the equipment and the knowledge for safely transporting, storing or using the cylinders.

The occupants with the cylinders had a plan to deal with the cylinders they were wrestling with, including laying them flat to roll them into the elevator. Since they were already there with the cylinders, the FM made the best of it and asked them to place both tanks off the main lobby into a secure room and left someone with them while getting a cart and straps to hold the tanks. The FM then relocated them to a safe place and tied them off to a column so they couldn’t fall over.

The safe handling and storage of compressed gas cylinders is a responsibility. They must be properly secured, properly transported and have their safety devices intact. For more information about storing and handling compressed gas, you can refer to Section 5.6 of the Ontario Fire Code and the reference in S.49 of the Occupational Health & Safety Act

Regulation 851 – Industrial Establishments.

It’s such a simple story, but it clearly shows that Facility Managers need to know their responsibilities under the applicable legislation and how to keep their facilities and occupants’ safe. Even more importantly, they have to be prepared to act when necessary, even when it’s inconvenient.

Michel Theriault is Principal of Strategic Advisor, a Facility Management consulting firm. He can be reached at michel@strategicadvisor.ca