How Well Do You Know Your Confined Spaces?

Businesses that require their people to work in confined spaces should ensure that they are familiar with safety procedures and protocols associated with those spaces. The spaces should be regularly inspected to guard against damage and to ensure that any entry attempts that are necessary can be conducted safely.

What is a confined space?

A confined space is any space that is not designed for continuous occupancy and which has limited access and egress arrangements. They can include access chambers, crawl spaces, storage tanks and mines, among others.

It is important to know your confined spaces, as it is estimated that 60% of the deaths that occur annually in Canada in confined spaces are of would-be rescuers who perhaps were not sufficiently familiar with the environment in which they were expected to operate.

Get to know your confined spaces in Canada

Every business that has a confined space on their site must hold accurate records regarding the space. These records must be accessible to anyone who may ever need to enter the space so that they will be able to understand the size, shape and access arrangements as well as any extraordinary safety risks that exist.

These risks will include any unusual access or egress arrangements, such as ladders, ropes or pulleys required for safe access, in which case specially trained operators must be on standby for every entry in order to safely evacuate workers in the event of issues arising.

The records should detail whether the space could be subjected to gas, water or sewage leakage, restricted airflow, whether it has artificial ventilation or if there is the potential for landslip to occur. If there is a potential for hazardous working conditions, appropriate PPE must be worn by anybody entering the space, which must be regularly tested to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. By understanding the size, shape and operational constraints of the space, it is possible to draft an emergency evacuation plan for it.

Signpost the confined space

Clear signage must exist at the entry points of all business’ confined spaces in Canada. They must detail the hazards posed by the space and restrict entry to only those personnel that are appropriately trained to enter. If a member of the public could potentially access the confined space, the signage must be detailed enough to discourage entry.

The importance of training

Once every confined space on your site has its own bespoke emergency evacuation plan, it will need to be tested regularly to ensure that the conditions within the confined space have not changed due to external factors, natural deterioration or as a result of work conducted within the space. Test runs are also essential to ensure that staffs who may be required to operate within the space or form a rescue team are confident and competent to operate within the space.

Any issues encountered on a test run must be recorded and where your business cannot resolve them, it is wise to enlist professional help to maintain the safety of the site and workers and to ensure that any defects to the confined space are repaired or the space safely decommissioned.