CONFINED SPACES: How to Comply with the Requirements for Attendants
[box][/box]Confined spaces are very hazardous to the workers who must work inside them. And if something goes wrong, such workers may not be able to call for help or escape on their own. As a result, the OHS regulations typically require employers to post workers near confined spaces to monitor the work inside and provide help if needed, such as supplying PPE or contacting the rescue team. We’ll explain the requirements for so-called “confined space attendants” under the OHS laws and tell you how to ensure your attendants meet these requirements.
TRAINING CHECKLIST: Download a Confined Space Attendant Training Checklist you can use to ensure that workers designated as confined space attendants get the required training.
Defining Our Terms
The OHS laws use various terms to refer to workers stationed outside of confined spaces, including tending workers, attendants, sentinels and standby persons or workers. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use the term “attendants” to refer to such workers throughout this article.
UNDERSTANDING THE CONFINED SPACE ATTENDANT REQUIREMENTS
Each jurisdiction’s OHS laws have confined space requirements, which all address the need for attendants. To ensure that your company complies with these requirements, you must understand the following:
When an Attendant Is Required
The chart at the bottom spells out when an attendant is required for a confined space under the OHS laws in each jurisdiction. There are two general camps:
All confined spaces. Several jurisdictions require an attendant for every confined space or whenever a worker enters a confined space, regardless of the specific conditions in the space.
Hazardous confined spaces. Other jurisdictions require attendants when the conditions in a confined space are hazardous due to:
- The presence or level of contaminants, such as gases or dusts;
- Oxygen levels that are too low or too high; or
- The presence of other serious health or safety hazards that can’t be eliminated.
Qualifications for Attendants
The OHS laws typically require confined space attendants to have two qualifications:
Competency. Most jurisdictions require the employer to appoint a “competent” or “qualified” worker to be a confined space attendant. What exactly does “competent” or “qualified” mean? In general, the OHS laws define a “competent” worker as one who’s qualified based on knowledge, training and experience to safely perform the assigned work. Thus, you probably shouldn’t assign a young, inexperienced worker or a worker who has never dealt with confined spaces before to be a confined space attendant.
As part of competency, workers must also be physically able to fulfill the duties of an attendant. For example, attendants may be provided lifting equipment for use in pulling workers out of a confined space in an emergency. A worker should be physically able to operate such equipment to be an attendant.
Adequate training. Confined space attendants must also get adequate training. In general, they should get the same training as workers who have to enter confined spaces as part of their job. In addition, they should get training on their duties as an attendant, including confined space rescue procedures and use of communications equipment. And in some jurisdictions—such as MB and NB—attendants must have first aid training. (For training materials such as safety talks on confined spaces and other safety topics, go to Safety Smart. You’ll need to be a Safety Smart member or sign up for a trial membership to access these training tools.)
TRAINING CHECKLIST: At www.OHSInsider.com, you can download a Confined Space Attendant Training Checklist you can use to ensure that workers designated as confined space attendants get the required training.
Confined Space Resources
Some jurisdictions publish guides on confined spaces that cover confined space attendants. Here are links to some of them:
Duties an Attendant Must Perform
In some jurisdictions, all confined space attendants have the same duties; in others, the duties vary depending on how hazardous the confined space is. But in general, confined space attendants are there to:
Communicate with workers inside the confined space. Attendants can stay in contact with workers in a confined space using radios or other communications equipment that’s effective in the space. They can also communicate with the workers using hand signals when appropriate.
Keep track of the number of workers in the space. It’s important to know how many workers are in a confined space. For example, in the event of an emergency, you don’t want rescue personnel endangering themselves looking for workers in a confined space when everyone is already out. So attendants should keep track of the number of workers in a confined space at any given time. They can do so on the entry permit or a separate record.
Monitor the work being done inside and around the space. One of the attendant’s key jobs is monitoring the work both in the confined space and near it for hazardous conditions, such as a buildup of gas, possible engulfment or signs that workers are suffering oxygen deprivation. In addition, attendants should be on the lookout for equipment that could enter or interfere with the confined space. Some jurisdictions, such as BC and YK, specifically require attendants to visually check on the workers in a confined space at least every 20 minutes, which is a good rule of thumb for all jurisdictions.
Control lifelines. Several jurisdictions, such as BC, NB, NS and YK, require attendants to control the lifelines attached to workers inside the confined space and ensure they don’t get tangled with each other or other equipment.
Take steps in an emergency. If there’s an emergency in a confined space, such as a worker gets hurt and needs to be removed, the attendant is there to call for emergency assistance from the designated confined space rescue personnel. In addition, the attendant should be empowered to order evacuation of the space if an unexpected hazard is detected. And if possible, attendants can help workers safely exit the confined space using lifting equipment.
Insider Says: The OHS laws also often spell out what confined space attendants should not do. For example, attendants should not:
- Leave the confined space unless replaced by another qualified attendant or all workers have exited the confined space;
- Enter the confined space—even in an emergency; or
- Do other work while acting as an attendant that may interfere with their duties as an attendant.
Location of Attendants
For attendants to effectively fulfill the above duties, they must be located near the confined space they’re monitoring. Most OHS laws specify that an attendant should be positioned at or near the entrance to the confined space. If a confined space has more than one entrance, post the attendant near the entrance that best allows him to fulfill his duties.
Equipment Attendants Need
Make sure attendants have the communications equipment needed to stay in contact with the workers in the confined space and appropriate equipment for monitoring the atmosphere in the confined space. In addition, the OHS laws require you to ensure attendants have an alarm or other suitable equipment to allow them to summon assistance in an emergency. And some jurisdictions, such as BC, require you to provide attendants with lifting equipment to extract workers from a confined space in an emergency.
When something goes wrong in a confined space, the workers inside it are especially vulnerable. Confined space attendants can warn workers and get them out of the confined space before an emergency situation develops. If an emergency does occur, they can call for help. And because a fast response to a confined space emergency can make all the difference, having confined space attendants in place is so important. Thus, if your workplace has confined spaces, use the information in this article to ensure that your company complies with the confined space attendant requirements.
Use this chart to learn when an attendant is required when workers are working in confined spaces in your province.
KNOW THE LAWS OF YOUR PROVINCE
Under the OHS law, a confined space attendant is required:
|FED||When conditions in a confined space or the nature of the work to be performed in a confined space is such that the specifications in Sec. 11.4(1)(a) can’t be complied with during all times that a person is in the confined space [Sec. 11.5(1)(c)].||Canada OHS Regs.|
|AB||1) If the oxygen content of the atmosphere inside the confined space is less than 19.5% by volume or greater than 23% by volume;2) If the concentration of a substance listed in Schedule 1, Table 2 inside the confined space is greater than 50% of its OEL; or3) If a hazard other than one of the above is identified in the hazard assessment and the hazard can’t be eliminated or controlled [Sec. 56(3)].||OHS Code 2009|
|BC||1) If a worker enters a confined space that contains a low hazard atmosphere [Sec. 9.34];2) If a worker enters a confined space that contains a moderate hazard atmosphere [Sec. 9.35]; or3) If a worker enters a confined space that contains a high hazard atmosphere, risk of engulfment or entrapment or any other recognized serious health or safety hazard [Sec. 9.36].||OHS Reg.|
|MB||For every confined space [Sec. 15.8(1)(a)].||Workplace Health and Safety Reg.|
|NB||1) When a competent person is unable to ensure that the specified concentration of airborne chemical agents or dust, level of physical agents or percentage of oxygen can be maintained in the confined space; or2) When there’s a possibility that one of the above hazards may occur while a worker is in the confined space [Sec. 266(b)].||OHS Regs.|
|NL||When a worker is required to enter a confined space [Sec. 513(3)].||OHS Regs. 2012|
|NT/NU||When a worker enters a confined space in which the atmosphere:1) contains contaminants; or2) has an oxygen content of less than 18% by volume under normal atmospheric pressure [Sec. 36(6)(d)].||General Safety Regs.|
|NS||When a person enters a confined space [Sec. 134(2)].||Occupational Safety General Regs.|
|ON||Whenever a worker is to enter a confined space [Sec. 15(1)].||Confined Spaces Reg.|
|PE||When a worker enters a confined space [Sec. 13.5].||OHS General Regs.|
|QC||When a worker is present in an “enclosed area” [Sec. 308].||Regulation respecting Occupational Health and Safety|
|SK||When a worker is in a hazardous confined space [Sec. 274(4)].||OHS Regs.|
|YT||1) When a worker enters a confined space with a low or moderate atmosphere [Sec. 2.28(1)]; or2) When a worker enters a confined space with a high hazard atmosphere, a risk of engulfment or entrapment or any other recognized serious health or safety hazard [Sec. 2.29(1)].||OHS Regs.|