Expert Insights into Confined Space Safety for Petroleum Workers: A Discussion

confined space in Ottawa

In 2019, the petroleum industry accounted for 7.5% of Canada’s economy. Employing more than half a million people across all stages, from extraction to refining and distribution, this is a huge business and one that continues to thrive despite growing pressure from environmentalists to switch to renewable energy sources. This is due, in part, to its commitment to worker safety.

Even though the industry faces a unique set of risks and challenges, it has embraced best practices, making excellent use of modern technologies and implementing stringent safety measures across all areas of operations.

Confined space safety

Confined spaces are inherently hazardous environments due to their limited entry and exit points. However, confined spaces that are situated in petroleum facilities pose additional risks due to the presence of hazardous substances and the increased likelihood of atmospheric hazards.

Regulatory bodies such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety provide guidelines for businesses that require their workers to enter confined spaces, including defining how to identify and assess hazards, evaluate atmospheric conditions, and implement appropriate safety measures.

A critical component of an effective safety plan is having a proven set of emergency procedures against which all employees are routinely trained and their competence is tested.

Worker training is imperative

Petroleum workers who are required to enter confined spaces must understand how to recognize hazards, operate their PPE and other safety equipment, and how to respond if an emergency situation arises. Regular refresher training is aimed at reinforcing safety protocols, creating instinctive reactions in workers and preparing them for the high-risk situations that they may encounter in the course of their daily duties.

Training must encompass advances in technology and best practice updates as they become available. Advanced monitoring systems for identifying harmful atmospheric conditions are now commonplace, and their use is strongly encouraged to provide workers with real-time data on air quality, enabling them to make appropriate decisions regarding PPE usage, including breathing apparatus.

Modern technology, such as drones, enhances worker safety by allowing inspections of confined spaces to be performed from outside of the space, mapping entry and exit routes and identifying potential hazards prior to entry by a human operator. In some cases, drones may determine that entry is not necessary as the confined space remains in suitable condition, with no defects identified.

By employing modern technology and prioritizing worker safety, the Canadian petroleum industry can comply with regulatory requirements, enhance safety outcomes and create a cost-effective long-term growth strategy.

Challenges to overcome

Despite best efforts and impressive advancements in safety technology, workers continue to become entrapped and perish in confined spaces, so the petroleum industry must renew its efforts, making best use of specialist rescue services to deliver custom training and guidance on a case-by-case basis.

By making a concentrated effort to reduce safety incidents to a level that is as low as possible, the industry will improve its safety statistics, reputation and profitability while creating a powerful safety culture in which workers are empowered to make appropriate decisions to protect themselves and their colleagues.