An Orléans restaurateur who was ordered to shut down portable heaters on his covered outdoor patio this week after officials said they posed a health hazard says the province should have done more to help businesses understand the rules governing such devices.
Athon Varvaresos, the owner of the Corner Bar and Grill, said an inspector from the provincially regulated Technical Standards and Safety Authority showed up at the Tenth Line Road pub on Tuesday afternoon and told him the three natural gas heaters on his patio created a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and were a potential fire hazard.
“He basically said he couldn’t leave without having (the heaters) turned off,” said Varvaresos. He said the inspector gave him a pamphlet outlining the dos and don’t of using patio heaters.
The veteran businessman said he spent more than $1,500 to purchase the heaters and have them professionally installed. He said the tent has two open sides and does not extend all the way to the ground, leaving about a 30-centimetre gap all the way around for ventilation.
After the visit from the inspector, Varvaresos immediately went out and rented two heaters specifically designed for indoor use to replace them.
He said that while he understands the importance of following all safety precautions, he felt blindsided by the inspector’s visit and had never seen the pamphlet before Tuesday.
“They’ve had seven months to get the word out,” Varvaresos said, suggesting the TSSA could have partnered with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to inform all its licensees of the safety guidelines.
TSSA spokesperson Alexandra Campbell said the agency emailed the pamphlet to restaurant associations, BIAs, municipalities and fire services across the province in early October and asked those organizations to share the information with businesses.
Campbell said inspectors usually visit an establishment at the request of a local municipality or fire department or if a complaint has been filed. She said she didn’t know what prompted this week’s visit to Varvaresos’s pub.
Punishment not the goal
Campbell said the goal of such visits isn’t to punish restaurant owners, but to help educate them on the proper use of devices that can be dangerous under the wrong circumstances.
“With COVID, a lot of businesses are using fuel-fired heaters where they’ve maybe never used them before,” she said. “They’re safe, but only when you know what you’re doing and instructions are followed.”
Varvaresos said the new heaters he’s renting are actually more effective than the ones he’d purchased, but he added he’s not sure how much longer there will be demand for the patio at this point in the year.
“The real test will be next week,” he said, noting daytime highs are forecast to remain in single digits. “It’s going to be tough.”
The Corner Bar and Grill isn’t the only local restaurant to face sanctions from authorities for allegedly violating patio rules.
Vittoria Trattoria on Rivergate Way was recently fined $880 by Ottawa bylaw officials for not having adequate ventilation in the tent covering its outdoor patio. Co-owner Domenic Santaguida said he plans to fight the fine.