Confined Space: Are You Properly Protected

Working within confined space is not a new venture, yet everyday there are workers entering confined spaces without the proper precautions and equipment being considered. The risks are high but the frequency of such incidents should not be taken lightly, because the results are often fatal and have significant legal consequences to the people and businesses involved.

Fatalities in confined spaces often happen quickly and without warning. An entrant can be overcome by toxic gas or asphyxiate due to lack of oxygen in mere seconds. Statistics show that more than 50 % of all confined space fatalities are actually coworkers or ‘would be rescuers’ that went in to save the original entrant. This is a clear indicator that proper confined space entry training has not been provided to the employees or is not being followed accordingly.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act stipulates under:

  • Sec25(2)(d)Acquaint the worker with the hazards
  • S.25(2)(h)Take every precaution necessary to protect the worker

Working in confined space may not be a regular occurrence at your workplace but unfamiliar or irregular work is not a defence if the Ministry is involved or an incident occurs. As an employer, and as a competent supervisor you areresponsible to ensure all measures and precautions are taken to protect your employees and also to prove due diligence. When determining a confined space area, it must have an initial assessment performed to classify whether it is in facta confined space; also, the risks involved must be assessed and the methods to control those risks developed. Written procedures must be produced to assert how the work will be performed, along with a detailed written rescue plan put in place for individuals to execute.

The Act and applicable regulations make some people uncomfortable as intricate operations such as confined spaces can cause misunderstanding and may seem difficult to manage. Many components need to be addressed to ensure compliance and protect the workers, including:

  • Having a comprehensive procedure in place
  • Identifying the hazards and the controls needed
  • Writing the appropriate documents
  • Training the workers in the tasks necessary including emergency operations (an essential component)
  • Producing clear and concise documentation, all of which may not be very familiar to many workplaces that presently operate in confined spaces.

Sec 221.5(3) clearly states the responsibilities regarding these and many other provisions required. Ensuring compliance and possessing a detailed systematic program is an employer’s best safeguard.

As an employer, if an employee brings up a concern over the work and the safety measures in place, do not hastily force them into completing the task, or finding another employee who will. This can prove far more costly in the long run than taking the time to appropriately train and educate the employee on how to safely complete the work and what other safety measures are in place in the event that an accident should happen to occur.

Hiring outside consultants with the experience and expertise may be the best solution for assessment, management, mitigation and training where confined spaces are concerned. Confined spaces are not a standard work environment so the initiation regarding the appropriate level of proficiency is required.