Friday, September 04, 2009

Danger, Danger

PS Magazine, Sept / Oct 2009

You may have seen on ESPN’s show E:60 a scary story regarding the hospitalization of a number of high school hockey players allegedly due to high carbon dioxide levels in the rink from a poorly maintained ice resurfacer. As quoted at, "E:60 conducted its own series of tests at 34 rinks in 14 states. Of the 28 rinks that used propane or natural gas resurfacers, nearly one-third were found to have dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, or ultrafine particles.” Did you know that Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are the only states to require arenas to monitor the air in their facility and to maintain specific levels? Do you know if your arena is one of the “clean air” buildings? Does your rink have its resurfacer tuned up regularly?

To me, while carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are extremely hazardous, the most dangerous safety issue could end up being ammonia. Ammonia is a common refrigerant and with the government phasing out the use of Freon, many new rinks are being built with ammonia-based compressors. Ammonia is an extremely efficient (almost 10 times more efficient at 1/5th of the cost of Freon R-22!) refrigerant that lost its favor in the late sixties and early seventies because of the fear of ammonia leaks. Ammonia is extremely irritating and may severely burn your skin and eyes upon contact. Ammonia can be used safely, but only if the proper precautions are taken. All ammonia areas should be well-ventilated and posted with warning signs. Emergency exits should be well-marked and easy to get to. Do you know what kind of a refrigerant your arena uses? Does the facility have an ammonia or Freon alarm? Do you know the arenas evacuation plan? Does the rink even have one? The building should have a written emergency plan which is not only required reading but should be periodically drilled. For internal threats like fire, gas leaks, etc; know your way out of the building quickly. For external threats as severe storms and tornadoes, know the safest location within the building.

I always talk about the importance of educating ourselves, generally with the thought of improving our coaching and technical skills, but in reality we need to know much more about our “office.” We are responsible for our students when they are in the facility and understanding how the rink operates will help you be a better and safer coach. I’m not suggesting that you run into the manager’s office tomorrow and tell him what he’s doing wrong, but if given the opportunity to share some thoughts on how the facility can produce a better experience for the skaters, here are some other thoughts.

Ice maintenance and ice quality are one and the same. The best arenas do maintenance everyday and have a flat, level surface that does not chip excessively and allows for effortless gliding. Remember in the day when our coaches would tell us to lay out our paragraph figures in the center of the ice and away from the boards? I also remember standing next to my coach discussing a technique to finally recognize the fact that I had drifted about 5 feet away…

To get a flat surface it takes commitment from the resurfacing drivers and the person who “edges” against the boards. A good measurement regarding the levelness of the rink is the kick-plate at the bottom of the boards. Kick-plates are 8 or 10 inches in height and based on a preferred ice depth of 1.25 to 1.5 inches, you should see about 7.5 to 8.5 inches of the kick plate. Additionally, the arena should be measuring the thickness of the ice throughout the floor. This is done by drilling into the ice at predetermined areas and measuring. Another important piece is the quality of the water itself. Water that has been de-mineralized is preferred and the ice-making water should be at a minimum of 160 degrees to minimize the oxygen content of the water. The temperature of the ice should be between 24 -28 degrees. Ice that is too cold or is high in mineral counts will “tear” on edge jumps and increase the size of the holes on toe jumps.

Some managers will need convincing that having perfect ice doesn’t cost more money. While it may increase some man hours, having thinner ice lowers the heat load on the compressors. Three inches of ice could cost as much as $7200 more a year than a 1 inch ice depth. Additionally, when someone gets hurt skating and they file a lawsuit, often they blame it on the quality of the ice. Having a well-maintained ice surface and a log of what maintenance was performed and when; is the first line of defense.