WHAT IS THE RISK?
Conducting work in confined spaces can be hazardous to your and other workers’ health and safety. However, are all so-called confined spaces actually considered confined under the WorkSafeBC Regulations? With several changes to the Guidelines and WorkSafeBC expectations in the past few years, Employers and Contractors alike are confused as to what makes a space confined (or not).
Do you have suspect confined spaces at your building or workplace that requires entry and work by individuals? If so, then you and those workers may be exposed to unintended risks and consequences, such as:
- Allowing persons to work in spaces that are confined, while treating them as excluded, and underestimating potential hazards/risks
- Overestimating hazards/risks of spaces that can be excluded from Part 9 regulatory requirements
- WorkSafeBC orders, shut down orders
- Citations and administrative penalties (fines)
- Financial loss or loss of business
- Serious worker injury or illness
Do you understand your regulatory duties to properly identify your confined spaces, excluded spaces, and assess the hazards/risks of both, through a “Qualified Person,” and do you know how to manage these risks to minimize your liabilities and maintain your due diligence?
WHAT MAKES A SPACE CONFINED?
First, it is important to understand and know the criteria, under WorkSafeBC, that defines a space as confined. Per Section 9.1 of the Part 9 Regulations a confined space is an area, other than an underground working that:
- a. Is enclosed or partially enclosed;
- b. Is not designed or intended for continuous human occupancy;
- c. Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit that can complicate the provision of first aid, evacuation, rescue or other emergency response services; and
- d. Is large enough and so configured that a worker could enter to perform assigned work.
It is important to note that excluded confined spaces are confined by definition, but may not have certain hazards/ risks associated with them that “traditional” confined spaces do. It is therefore imperative to really understand and know the types of spaces that WorkSafeBC has determined to be not confined, the criteria companies must use to assess the possibility of excluding a space, and when a “Qualified Person” needs to be engaged to assist with this determination.
Let’s de-mystify excluded confined spaces (typically called “enclosed spaces”) and review the nine exclusion criteria that must be met.
WHAT SPACES CAN BE EXCLUDED?
Per Column A in Guideline G9.1-1, WorkSafeBC has indicated the following, select spaces that could be possibly excluded from being confined:
SPACES THAT MAY BE EXCLUDED (FROM PART 9)
- Swimming pools
- Crawl spaces (non-industrial)
- Attic spaces
- Open/unconnected storm/sewer manholes
- Elevator shafts
- HVAC plenums
However, there are very specific “exclusion criteria” that all must be met in order to be able to deem a space “not confined.”
WHAT ARE THESE CRITERIA?
There a nine specific questions that must be asked by your qualified representatives or a “Qualified Person” (as defined by WorkSafeBC under Section 9.11):
- Does the design, construction, location, and use of the space ensure clean, respirable air at all times during the work?
- Does the space have an interior volume of greater than 64 cubic feet per person?
- Does the space have openings to the atmosphere that can provide natural ventilation?
- Does the space contain a moderate or high hazard atmosphere, that could exist or immediately develop prior to any worker entry, or during work inside?
- Do you have to mechanically ventilate, clean or purge the space prior to any entry for any reason?
- Can a hazardous substance potentially infiltrate the space through any medium (e.g. air, soil, conveyance, piping etc.)?
- Is the space free of residual material that, if disturbed, could generate hazardous air contaminants that could acutely affect a worker’s health?
- Is there any risk of entrapment or engulfment to workers entering the space?
- Are there tools, equipment or processes inside or beside, or be introduced into, the space, that could generate hazardous air contaminants?
When all the above criteria are met, Employers can make, through proper consultation with a worker, worker health and safety representative, or joint health and safety committee member, a determination that the space is not confined. This decisions must be documented and be available for review by a WorkSafeBC Officer. However, WorkSafeBC does expect that individuals involved in the process have suitable knowledge and expertise in confined space identification and assessment, otherwise a “Qualified Person” must be engaged.
DO YOU HAVE QUALIFIED PERSONNEL?
Should your company not have a well educated, trained, knowledgeable and/or experienced “Qualified Person,” then WorkSafeBC expects you to engage one. What is the definition of a Qualified Person under WorkSafeBC? We can look at Section 9.11 of the Regulations which states the following criteria:
- Adequate training and experience in the recognition, evaluation and control of confined space hazards.
- Acceptable qualifications, as evidence of adequate training and experience include:
- Certified Industrial Hygienist, Registered Occupational Hygienist
- Certified Safety Professional, Canadian Registered Safety Professional
- Professional engineer
- Other combination of education, training and experience acceptable to the Board.
However, it is important to note that WorkSafeBC does expect those who conduct confined space assessments and those with the above qualifications have experience in the recognition, evaluation and control of confined space hazards.
OHS Global is here to help! We are an industry leader in the provision of professional, quality, timely and practical confined space consulting and training services. We have nearly 50 combined years of experience in assisting hundreds of clients from various industry sectors in identifying their confined and excluded space risks, and designing effective strategies and solutions to manage those risks. Our services include, but are not limited to:
- Confined space identifications, classification of spaces (confined, excluded) and hazard assessments
Developing compliant, detailed, but easy to use:
- Confined Space Entry Programs
- Confined Space Inventories
- Confined Space Hazard Assessments
- Confined Space Entry Procedures
- Confined Space Rescue Procedures
- Confined Space Forms, Records, Checklists (e.g. Entry Permits, etc.).
In addition, we offer comprehensive, engaging and dynamic confined space training courses:
- Confined Space Entry Principles (8 Hours)
- Standby Person/Air Testing Principles (4 Hours)
- Confined Space Supervisor (4 Hours)
Contact us for further information about how we can help you meet and overcome your specific confined space challenges.
About Craig Yee
Craig Yee is an Industrial Hygienist and Principal of OHS Global Risk Solutions. He earned his Masters Degree in Occupational and Environmental Hygiene at the University of British Columbia. He has over 12 years of direct experience in the hygiene, health and safety industry in both public and private sectors. You can connect with him on Google+.
Risk Identified. Risk Managed.