CONFINED SPACES: How to Comply with the Requirements for Attendants

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Person working in confined space

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. (To ensure you correctly identify all confined spaces, see “How to Recognize the ‘Confined Spaces’ in Your Workplace,” Feb. 2010, p. 1.)

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 (This chart lists the oxygen limits for confined spaces in each jurisdiction.); 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.

Insider Says: For more information on who qualifies as a “competent” worker, see “Compliance 101: What Makes a Worker a ‘Competent Person’ under OHS Laws?” Sept. 2008, p. 11.

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:

Fed: Confined Spaces—No Easy Way Out

AB: Guideline for Developing a Code of Practice for Confined Space Entry; Explanation Guide to Part 5, Confined Spaces

BC: Confined Space Entry Program: a Reference Manual

NS: Confined Space Entry

ON: Confined Spaces Guideline

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. (For more information on entry permits, see “Create Permit System to Prevent Confined Space Injuries and Liability,” May 2006, p. 1.)

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. (For more on confined space emergency plans, see “Confined Spaces: How to Create an Emergency Plan,” July 2010, p. 1.)

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.

BOTTOM LINE

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

Here are the general manual materials handling requirements in each jurisdiction’s OHS regulations:

RELEVANT OHS LAW

FED 1) Where, because of the weight, size, shape, toxicity or other characteristic of materials, goods or things, the manual handling of materials, goods or things may be hazardous to a worker’s health or safety, the employer must issue instructions that the materials, goods or things shall, where reasonably practicable, not be handled manually [Sec. 14.46(1)].2) For purposes of the above, the employer must take into account the frequency and duration of manual lifting and the distances and terrain over which an object is to be manually lifted or carried in deciding whether the manual handling of the materials, goods or things may be hazardous to a worker’s health or safety [Sec. 14.46(2)].

3) No employer shall require a worker who’s an office worker and whose primary tasks don’t include manual lifting or carrying to manually lift or carry materials, goods or things in excess of 23 kg [Sec. 14.47].

4) When a worker is required manually to lift or carry loads weighing in excess of 10 kg, the employer must instruct and train him in:

a) a safe method of lifting and carrying the loads that will minimize the stress on the body; and

b) a work procedure appropriate to his physical condition and the conditions of the workplace [Sec. 14.48].

5) When a worker is required manually to lift or carry loads weighing in excess of 45 kg, the employer must give him instructions as discussed above that are:

a) set out in writing;

b) readily available to the worker; and

c) kept by the employer for a period of two years after they cease to apply [Sec. 14.49].

OHS Regs.
AB 1) An employer must provide, where reasonably practicable, appropriate equipment for lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, handling or transporting heavy or awkward loads [Sec. 208(1)].2) If the provided equipment isn’t reasonably practicable in a particular circumstance or for a particular heavy or awkward load, the employer must take all practicable means to:

a) adapt the load to facilitate lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, carrying, handling or transporting the load without injuring workers; or

b) otherwise minimize the manual handling required to move the load [Sec. 209].

3) Before a worker manually lifts, lowers, pushes, pulls, carries, handles or

transports a load that could injure him, the employer must perform a hazard

assessment that considers:

a) the weight of the load;

b) the size of the load;

c) the shape of the load;

d) the number of times the load will be moved; and

e) the manner in which the load will be moved [Sec. 210(1)].

4) If the required hazard assessment determines that there’s a potential for an MSI, the employer must ensure that all reasonably practicable measures are used to eliminate or reduce that potential in accordance with Sec. 9 [Sec. 210(3)].

OHS Code 2009
BC OHS regulations don’t have general manual materials handling requirements. But the ergonomics/MSI requirements [Secs. 4.46-4.53] would apply to such work to the extent that it poses the risk of MSIs to workers. OHS Reg.
MB OHS regulations don’t have general manual materials handling requirements. But the MSI requirements [Part 8] would apply to such work to the extent that it poses the risk of MSIs to workers. Workplace Safety and Health Reg.
NB 1) When the health or safety of a worker handling an object or material may be endangered, the employer must ensure that:a) adequate and appropriate equipment is provided to the worker and is used by him for lifting and moving the object or material; and

b) the worker is instructed as to the appropriate method of lifting and moving objects and material [Sec. 52].

OHS Reg.
NL 1) An employer or contractor must ensure, where reasonably practicable, that suitable equipment is provided and used for the handling of heavy or awkward loads [Sec. 56(1)]; and2) Where use of equipment isn’t reasonably practicable, an employer or contractor must take all practicable means to adapt heavy or awkward loads to facilitate lifting, holding or transporting by workers or to otherwise minimize the manual handling required [Sec. 56(2)]. OHS Regs. 2012
NT/NU OHS regulations don’t have general manual materials handling requirements. General Safety Regs.
NS 1) When the lifting or moving of a thing or person may be a hazard to the health or safety of a person at the workplace, the employer must ensure that:a) adequate and appropriate equipment for the lifting and moving is provided; and

b) training and instruction as to the appropriate method of performing the lifting and moving is provided in accordance with the equipment manufacturer’s instructions or, where there are no such instructions, in accordance with adequate work methods and lifting and moving techniques [Sec. 26].

Occupational Safety General Regs.
ON Material, articles or things required to be lifted, carried or moved must be lifted, carried or moved in such a way and with such precautions and safeguards, including protective clothing, guards or other precautions as will ensure that the lifting, carrying or moving of the material, articles or things doesn’t endanger the safety of any worker [Sec. 45(a)]. Industrial Establishments Reg.
PE 1) The employer must ensure that:a) where practicable, mechanical appliances are provided and used for lightening and carrying materials and articles [Sec. 43.8(a)]; and

b) workers assigned to handle material are instructed on how to lift and carry material on an individual basis, the overriding factor being the physical condition of each worker, including sex and age when relevant [Sec. 43.8 (b)].

OHS Regs.
QC 1) Workers assigned to the handling of loads or persons must be instructed in the proper manner of performing their work safely [Sec. 166]; and2) When the manual moving of loads or persons compromises the worker’s safety, mechanical devices must be put at his disposal [Sec. 166]. Reg. on Occupational Health and Safety
SK 1) An employer or contractor must ensure, where reasonably practicable, thatsuitable equipment is provided and used for the handling of heavy or awkward

loads [Sec. 78(1)].

2) Where the use of equipment isn’t reasonably practicable, an employer or

contractor must take all practicable means to adapt heavy or awkward loads to

facilitate lifting, holding or transporting by workers or to otherwise minimize the manual handling required [Sec. 78(2)].

3) An employer or contractor must ensure that no worker engages in the manual lifting, holding or transporting of a load that, by reason of its weight, size or shape, or by any combination of these or by reason of the frequency, speed or manner in which the load is lifted, held or transported, is likely to be injurious to the worker’s health or safety [Sec. 78(3)].

4) An employer or contractor must ensure that a worker who is to engage in the lifting, holding or transporting of loads receives appropriate training in safe

methods of lifting, holding or carrying of loads [Sec. 78(4)].

OHS Regs.
YT 1) Mechanical appliances for lifting or carrying materials and objects that are too heavy or awkward for workers to lift must be provided and used [Sec. 8.03(1)].2) Workers required to lift or carry objects must be trained to do the job safely [Sec. 8.03(2)]. OHS Regs.