Confined Space Hazards—Four Major Causes of deadly Accidents

It is estimated that, on average, [1] 100 deaths occur every year within confined spaces in Canada. Of these, roughly half are due to physical hazards and the other half is due to atmospheric hazards. In this context, it is clear that working in confined spaces is extremely dangerous, and despite ongoing efforts to improve safety statistics, more needs to be done to prevent further avoidable deaths.

The term “confined space” refers to a large enough area for workers to enter, but with limited entry and exit options. It is a space that is not designed for continuous occupancy and therefore has a reasonably foreseeable risk of a hazardous atmosphere or other dangerous operating conditions. Examples of confined spaces are chambers, tanks, silos, pits, trenches, pipes, sewers, and wells.

Research shows that the main four causes of death in confined spaces are:

1. Lack of oxygen or release of poisonous gases: This may either be due to oxygen being removed from the atmosphere through naturally occurring reactions such as rust forming inside of tanks, or as a chemical reaction between soil and oxygen creating carbon dioxide, which displaces oxygen. In addition to a build-up of gasses produced by the work being done, such as welding or painting, other sources of air pollution are activities such as welding and painting. Even dust can be a severe hazard in an unventilated area.

2. Engulfment: Confined spaces present a high risk of flooding or collapse, where the workers within can be trapped and drowned or crushed. As many confined spaces are small, flooding can occur very quickly, offering little chance of escape, and collapses may cut off escape routes and impact ventilation.

3. Fires, explosions, and temperature: Many fires and explosions in confined spaces occur due to a buildup of gases in an unsuitably ventilated area or due to the use of unsuitable tools that can spark. Even without a fire, heat is generated by bodies working in confined spaces, and with insufficient ventilation, this can lead to heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and eventually collapse.

4. Access Restrictions: Confined spaces are by their very nature difficult to access, and this can make escaping the space challenging as well as hinder emergency rescue efforts. It is estimated that [2] 60% of confined space deaths involved those attempting to rescue others. It is therefore critical that sufficient risk assessments are carried out before entering a confined space in Ottawa in any capacity or for any reason.

Working in a confined space in Ottawa

Businesses in Ottawa are legally obliged to abide by the Ontario Confined Space Regulation 632/05, which specifies that all companies that require workers to enter confined spaces must have and follow a confined space training and rescue plan program.

Through the implementation of careful and ongoing risk assessments, safety considerations and emergency evacuation procedures, this regulation is intended to make working in confined spaces in Ottawa safer. In many cases, enlisting the help of an experienced rescue team can provide you with useful advice and assistance.