Confined space risk assessment: what you need to know

Confined space risk assessment: what you need to know

2/7/2017 - SPI

Many work incidents or accidents happen in confined spaces each year. In many instances, victims are not aware of the risks and that the control measures were inadequate. Despite what the name implies, a confined space is not necessarily small and can be found in most workplaces. A confined space is essentially a place not intended for human occupancy, where it is difficult to enter or exit, and involves risks such as elevators, vats, hoppers, service galleries, tanks, sewers, pipelines, access shafts, tankers and tank cars, airplane wings, boilers, manholes, manure pits and storage tanks.

Confined space risk assessment: an essential step

This type of space often involves greater risks than any other workspace. An analysis allowing the assessment of the risks related to the confined spaces of your company is essential to ensure the health and safety of your employees. This risk assessment is used to identify the hazards associated with the confined space and high-risk tasks performed there, and aims to implement the applicable safety means and techniques. In addition to the identification work, this step is necessary to provide a safe rescue plan in case of emergency. The assessment also allows raising the awareness of the workers on the risks associated with their work environment.

When should you perform a risk assessment?

Hazard identification and risk assessment are mandatory depending on the different regulations and the current CSA Z1006 standard. It is strongly recommended to carry out the analysis a few weeks, or even a few months in advance. This approach helps ensure that the analysis is performed by qualified personnel, that all risks are rigorously evaluated and that all the equipment required to implement a comprehensive risk assessment program is available in a timely manner. As stated by Sean Donovan from MSA, the use of the appropriate equipment is a key factor in the protection of employees working in confined spaces and must be taken into account when developing the program. In order to help you better prepare, MSA provides a manual on the confined space hazards and the appropriate personal protective equipment.

Download the PDF document here

Planning the confined space risk assessment sufficiently ahead of time will also allow you to be better organized and prepared before entering confined spaces. Also, it will raise awareness and engage workers and stakeholders about the protocols to apply. Before each entry, the risk assessment of the visited confined space has to be revised by one or several qualified people. Also, a punctual analysis (prior the entry) is necessary every time, and unfortunately this step is too often forgotten. It is important not only to consider the confined space risks that we already control, but to also take into account the associated risks to each task carried out inside the confined space (welding, cutting, …)

Who can perform this type of analysis?

The occupational health and safety regulations require that the risk assessment is carried out by a qualified person. Appropriate training is key to ensure the safety of the work in confined spaces; also, the designated person to perform the risk assessment must have been received a comprehensive training on that topic. There are many advantages to hiring an external firm to provide training or carrying out the risk assessment of the confined space. By opting for this solution, you ensure that the work in done by experts with known skills and proven experience. This resource will be more objective and credible, thus promoting the adoption of safety procedures among the workers.

The main steps for the confined space risk assessment

There are several factors to be taken into consideration when identifying confined space hazards. The margin of error is slight for the determination or assessment of potential risks as the applicable control measures associated with the risks can have fatal consequences. Each confined space brings a range of unsafe situations. In some spaces, the work conditions are constantly dangerous. In other cases, existing conditions can be life threatening in unusual circumstances. This variability and unpredictability explain why the risk assessment is extremely important and must be conducted rigorously.

Certain tools may facilitate the data collection that will effectively identify hazards. This type of document simplifies the risk management and assessment of confined spaces. Management tools, such as a detailed data sheet, cover all necessary fields to identify major hazards found in confined spaces:

  • Confined space identification
  • Management of the possible construction work inside
  • Opening characteristics
  • Evaluation of current and potential risks
  • Procedures to implement according to the risks
  • Required safety equipment
  • Rescue plan and emergency situations

This sheet is a reference tool allowing the collection and organization of the necessary information to complete a risk analysis of your confined spaces. The experts of SPI Health and Safety are available if you need more information on the available tools to help you carry out your confined space risk analysis.