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Julio is an experienced worker at a municipal organic waste recycling facility. His coworker, Bilal, is new to the team and has shown a lot of enthusiasm for learning the ins and outs of the facility. When the underground drainage system backs up one day, Bilal is quick to offer to go down and flush it out.
“I’ve got this, Julio!” he offers. “I can head down and set up the high-pressure hose.”
“Hold tight a minute, Bilal. Remember how we talked about dangerous gases in our confined spaces training? There’s a ton of built up hydrogen sulphide down there. Walk me through what needs to happen before we can work in that space.”
What is a confined space?
A confined space is fully or partially enclosed and not primarily designed or intended for continuous human occupancy. It has a limited or restricted entrance or exit, or a configuration that can complicate first aid, rescue, evacuation, or other emergency response activities.
The major risk factors in a confined space tend to be its design, construction, location or atmosphere, the materials or substances in it, the work activities being carried out in it, or the mechanical, process and safety hazards present.
Confined spaces can be below or above ground – you can find them in almost any workplaces. And despite the name, they aren’t necessarily small. There are examples of confined spaces in many different industries. In agriculture, for example, there are silos, vats, hoppers, utility vaults, tanks, manure pits and water supply towers. Municipal waterworks have sewers, pipes, access shafts, boilers and pump stations. In transport, think of truck or rail tank cars, barges, shipping containers and aircraft wings. Ditches, wells, and trenches may also be a confined space when access or exiting is limited, although they are open to the air above.
Identifying and controlling hazards
Any hazard found in a regular workspace can also be found in a confined space. But in a confined space, workers are more at risk. There is often an insufficient amount of oxygen for a worker to breathe, or toxic gases that could make the worker ill or cause them to lose consciousness.
Simple asphyxiants, including argon, nitrogen, or carbon monoxide, are gases which can displace oxygen in the air. Low oxygen levels (19.5 percent or less) can cause symptoms such as rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, clumsiness, emotional upset, and fatigue. As less oxygen becomes available, nausea and vomiting, collapse, convulsions, coma and death can occur. Unconsciousness or death could happen within minutes of exposure to a simple asphyxiant.
Confined spaces are also at an increased risk of an explosive or flammable atmosphere due to flammable liquids and gases and combustible dusts which, if ignited, would lead to fire or explosion.
Other hazards that might be present include process-related hazards such as residual chemicals or the release of contents of a supply line. Workplaces also need to consider physical hazards like noise, heat and cold, radiation, vibration, electrical, and inadequate lighting. In addition, there are many safety hazards, ranging from moving equipment parts to structural hazards that could lead to engulfment, entanglement, slips, or falls. A barrier failure could result in a flood or release of free-flowing solids or liquids. Biological hazards include viruses, bacteria from fecal matter and sludge, fungi, and moulds.
An error in identifying or evaluating potential hazards in a confined space can have more serious consequences, as their conditions are often extremely dangerous or life-threatening.
For example, the entrance might not allow the worker to get out easily should there be a flood or collapse of free-flowing solid. Self-rescue may not be possible, and rescue of the worker could be difficult. An estimated 60% of fatalities that happen in confined spaces are would-be rescuers. The interior configuration of a confined space does not typically allow easy movement of the people or equipment within it. Conditions can change very quickly, and natural ventilation alone will often not be sufficient to maintain breathable quality air.
Preparing to enter a confined space
Before a worker enters any work space, employers should determine if it is a confined space. The next question to ask is: Is it absolutely necessary that the work be performed inside the confined space? In many cases where there have been deaths in confined spaces, the work could have been done outside of it.
A trained person should identify and evaluate all the existing and potential hazards within the confined space, before any workers enter it. Evaluate activities both inside and outside, including testing the air from outside before entry. Care should be taken to ensure that air is tested throughout the confined space - side-to-side and top to bottom.
Continuous air monitoring may also be needed, especially in situations where a worker is in a space where atmospheric conditions have the potential to change (e.g., broken or leaking pipes or vessels, work activities creating a hazardous environment, isolation of a substance is not possible). A qualified worker using detection equipment that is appropriate and calibrated according to the manufacturer’s instructions, should test the air quality. Sampling should show that oxygen content is within safe limits, a hazardous atmosphere is not present, and ventilation equipment is operating properly. The opening for entry into and exit from the confined space must be large enough to allow the passage of a person using protective equipment.
Because of the elevated risk of injuries and fatalities, it is absolutely crucial that organizations have a well developed confined space program. This program should outline requirements for risk assessments and hazard control, safe work procedures, worker training, entry permitting process, air testing, emergency response, record keeping, and program review. There should also be a description of the roles and responsibiltiies of each person or party, including the employer, supervisor, workers, attendants, and emergency response team.
After reviewing the requirements of the confined space program, including the risk assessment and the required control measures for the space, Bilal checks in with Julio.
“Well, how did I do, Julio? Are we ready to complete the confined space entry permit?”
“Yes, let’s go check in with our supervisor so we can complete the permit and prepare to enter the space.”
Requirements for entering confined spaces can vary by jurisdiction, so be sure to review the applicable legistlation before proceeding.
Also referred to as orientation, onboarding is the process of introducing new, inexperienced, and transferred workers to an organization, their supervisors, and co-workers. It’s also an opportunity to familiarize them with their work areas, jobs, and the importance of health and safety.
After all, employers have the responsibility to maintain a safe work environment and to protect the health and safety of workers. With a comprehensive orientation program in place, you can help to foster a positive health and safety culture from day one.
Seven Tips for Employers
When shipping dangerous goods across Canada via air, marine, rail or road, it’s critical for first responders to know what’s in transit and what to do if an incident occurs. In 2020, Transport Canada launched a Regulatory sandbox on electronic shipping documents pilot project to see if e-shipping documents might be a viable alternative to physical paper documents. The project has recently concluded and here are some of the highlights:
Although the project is over, it is still possible to use electronic shipping documents instead of paper to transport dangerous goods. Companies interested must apply for an equivalency certificate to be granted permission to use electronic shipping documents.
This summer Transport Canada will publish a report summarizing findings and recommendations on proposed amendments to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations. An executive summary will be made available on Transport Canada’s website under Dangerous Goods.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Landscaping Tips
With landscaping season ramping up, here are some tips for working safely.
Podcast runs: 5:50 minutes. Listen Now
Encore Podcast: Workplace Refreshers to Prevent Dehydration
No matter the season or type of work, if staff don't drink enough fluids to replace what is lost in the day, they can become dehydrated. Just a small drop can cause a loss of energy, with severe dehydration being a medical emergency. Learn more about keeping workers safe, including tips for recognition and prevention.
Podcast runs 6:08 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include changes to Canada Labour Standards Regulations, amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Acts in British Columbia and Manitoba, and to the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Ontario, and amendments to the Pesticides Management Code in Quebec.
Canada Labour Standards Regulations (Canada Labour Code (Part III)): SOR/2022-41 replaces subsection 6(11); repeals and replaces Section 16; replaces subsection 19(6); adds Section 29.1 Complaint for Unjust Dismissal, Section 29.2 Complaint Related to Genetic Testing, and Section 29.3 Complaint Referred to in Subsection 251.01(1) of the Act; and, replaces subsection 34(1).
Workers' Compensation Act: S.B.C. 2022, c. 3, ss. 2, 4-7, and 12 came into force 10/03/22 adding the definitions "asbestos abatement work" and "asbestos-containing material" to Section 1 Definitions; repealing and replacing the definition of "officer" in Section 13; amending paragraphs (c) and (d) in Sections 55 and 59; adding Section 59.01 Certification and training related to asbestos abatement to Division 8 of Part 2; and adding paragraph (b.1) to subsection 109(2).
Occupational Health and Safety Act: S.O. 2021, c. 35, Sched. 5, s. 1 came into force 01/03/22 adding Section 29.1 Duties of owners — washroom access, an amendment to require the owner of a workplace to provide access to a washroom to persons making deliveries to or from the workplace, with exceptions provided for. S.O. 2022, c. 7, Sched. 4, s. 3 came into force 11/04/22 amending clause 67(2)(a) by striking out “a director” and substituting “an officer or director”, and repealing and replacing clause 67(2)(b).
Workers' Compensation Act: Two amendments are applied. S.M. 2021, c. 64 came into force 01/04/22 adding five new clauses regarding injury sites to subsection (5.2) under Section 4 Compensation payable out of accident fund. S.M. 2021, c. 30, s. 10 replaces wording in sub-clauses 1(4)(e)(i) and 1(4)(e)(ii), and clauses 1(7)(e) and 1(7)(f).
Pesticides Management Code (Pesticides Act) : O.C. 1596-2021 came into force 01/03/22 and amends various sections of the regulation including definitions of terms used throughout the regulation, listing of activities to which the regulation does not apply, and various adjustments to the specific areas where pesticide use is either permitted or prohibited.
Regulation respecting occupational health and safety (Act respecting occupational health and safety): O.C. 644-2022 s. 2 amends the definition of “STEV: short-term exposure value” and various substances and characteristics listed in Schedule I.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety, and environmental legislation you need in one location.
If you are a woman enrolled in a post-secondary occupational health and safety program in Canada, you may be eligible for the Chad Bradley Scholarship. To apply for the award, you need to submit a 500-800 word essay detailing:
The winner will receive $3,000 and will be announced in the Fall. The deadline to apply is August 31, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Full details about the scholarship criteria are available on the CCOHS website.
CCOHS continues to develop and update resources to help workplaces operate safely during COVID-19. The Safe Work App includes our full collection of sector-specific tip sheets, infographics, videos, and other guidance related to the pandemic.
This free app works offline so you can access all content without the need for an internet connection.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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