Confined space work is a common practice in many industries, but it presents significant risks to workers.

Working in confined spaces involves an increase in the hazards associated with toxic gases, low oxygen levels, extreme temperatures, the use of dangerous equipment and more. It is essential that employers and workers understand the dangers associated with confined space work and take the right steps to stay safe.

Enviro Urgence specialists in hazardous waste management tell you everything you need to know about confined space work.

What qualifies as a confined space?

A confined space is defined as an area that is designed for limited use, has restricted entrances and exits, and is not intended to be continuously occupied.

Confined spaces can vary in size and shape, but some examples are tanks, silos, pipelines, vats, pits, ducts, tunnels, shafts, roof boxes, ship bunkers, cargo holds, cisterns, and underground work spaces (such as manholes, slurry pits, etc.).

A confined space is not suitable for continuous human occupancy for any one of the following reasons:
● Its design, construction, location or atmosphere may be hostile.
● The materials or substances in it may be toxic or even corrosive.
● The work performed there, as well as the mechanisms and processes used to achieve it, may represent a safety hazard for workers.

Despite what its name suggests, a confined space is not necessarily small or narrow. For example, trenches and shafts are confined spaces.

Hazardous confined spaces

A confined space that presents special risks to the health and safety of persons entering it may be further classified as a "hazardous confined space". These risks may be related to its design, construction, location, atmosphere, the materials or substances contained in it, or any other associated conditions.

Factors that have the potential to cause injury, illness or damage to the health of workers will qualify an area as a hazardous confined space. Consult the Government of Canada’s confined space assessment criteria to be sure you have identified a confined space correctly and are complying with appropriate safety regulations.


What are the hazards of working in a confined space?

There are many dangers involved in working in confined spaces. Confined spaces pose real risks for the health and safety of workers and for the integrity of the work environment.

Health and safety hazards for workers

There can be just as many risks in a conventional workspace as in a confined space, but in a confined space these risks are amplified and can impact workers in a variety of ways.

1. Poor air quality

People working in confined spaces are at greater risk of suffering from problems linked with poor air quality. The presence of toxic gases, low oxygen content in the immediate surroundings, and high or low temperature are some threats that are often of greater importance in confined spaces.

People working in these types of adverse conditions risk developing headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or even losing consciousness and dying if they are exposed for too long to certain gases, including:

- Carbon monoxide 

- Argon 

- Nitrogen

- Sulfur dioxide 

- Hydrogen sulfide 

- Ammonia or methane.

2. Hazardous materials

Hazardous materials pose a serious risk to people working in confined spaces. Workers could suffer major health problems through exposure to toxic chemicals via contact to the skin, ingestion, or inhalation.

Some hazardous products can also pose a fire hazard if they are composed of combustible dusts or are themselves flammable.

Residual chemicals or the release of the contents of a ruptured or dismantled supply line are further threats to be taken into consideration.

Risks to the work environment

Work in confined spaces can involve greater risk of damage to the immediate work environment. Gas leaks or leaks of other hazardous materials can cause damage to the immediate surroundings.

In confined spaces, there is also greater risk that workers physically damage the work environment by handling equipment improperly or making mistakes. Using an industrial cleaning service will ensure the safety of your employees.

The consequences of the risks associated with the spread of so-called "biological" hazards (viruses, bacteria, fungi, mold, etc.) are well-known. In confined spaces, these risks are again elevated. 

Safety regulations for working in confined spaces

When there is work to be done in a confined space, both the employer and worker are responsible for respecting established safety regulations, as determined by governments and international organizations.

In Canada, employers must comply with federal and provincial occupational health and safety regulations. The Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR) sets out specific safety standards and rules for confined space work. 

An employer is responsible for ensuring that:

- Workers are aware of the hazards associated with confined spaces.

- Confined space workers receive appropriate safety training.

- Preventative safety measures are implemented, such as:

o Risk assessment

o Training to identify and understand hazardous product labels

o Ventilation

o The use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

o The establishment of emergency procedures.

Workers, on the other hand, must follow safety procedures correctly, report any hazards or problems, use personal protective equipment properly, and participate in training sessions.

Plan and organize safe work in a confined space

Planning confined space work is critical to worker safety. It should include an assessment of the risks and hazards associated with the confined space, the identification of hazard controls and the designation of worker roles and responsibilities.

Planning should also consider emergency procedures in the event of an accident. Workers should be trained to understand all hazards as well as any safety measures being put in place.

What personal protective equipment (PPE) is required?

Worker training is essential to prevent accidents in confined spaces. Training should include hazard recognition and assessment, the use and maintenance of personal protective equipment (PPE), work environment monitoring, and emergency procedures.

The use of personal protective equipment is essential. PPE includes breathing equipment, safety harnesses, helmets, goggles, gloves and safety shoes.

The importance of prevention in confined space work

Working in a confined space involves many dangers. To avoid tragic incidents, take risk prevention measures, follow emergency procedures, and train workers in first aid and evacuation procedures.

Monitoring the work environment, including air quality, temperature and humidity, is also crucial in detecting hazards quickly. Workers should be trained to monitor the confined space and take corrective action if necessary.

Enviro Urgence takes worker safety to heart

Safety should be a top priority for all employers and workers who have to cope with confined space working situations. Take preventive measures to minimize risks, including following strict safety standards, planning carefully, training workers and regularly monitoring the work environment.

By following best practices, employers can not only keep their workers safe, but also avoid costly and potentially fatal accidents.

Contact Enviro Urgence to learn more!