Blog - The Raven Speaks

8 Stages to a Complete Confined Space Program

The variety of confined spaces encountered in the workplace is staggering. The CSA lists dozens of types of confined spaces in their standard (Z1006), a collection that should give any confined space "expert" pause.  But one thing unifies every confined space, no matter the workplace - every confined space needs to be part of a confined space program.

A confined space program is an overarching approach to handling confined spaces in a workplace. When effective, confined space programs allow everyone at a workplace to engage with confined spaces simply and efficiently.  

Establishing a confined space program is the lion's share of the work.  Maintaining a well-designed confined space program requires time and attention (learn more about maintaining your program), but not to the degree required for the initial program creation. 

To help you along the road towards an effective and simple confined space program, here are eight stages to a complete confined space program. You'll want to invite an exeprt to assist in completing many of these steps, but choose to remain informed.  Your level of engagement and knowledge will save your organization time and money, and keep your expert on task.

1. Take An Inventory

An inventory of the spaces at your workplace forms the foundation of your confined space program.  This inventory is best achieved with a physical tour of the workplace. Ideally, the following individuals will be on the tour:

  • a worker familiar with the day-to-day operations of the spaces
  • a supervisor familiar with the health and safety requirements of the workplace
  • a confined space expert familiar with all relevant legislation, regulations and standards

During the inventory stage, you need to ask yourself some tough questions.  Can you "retreat engineer" any of your spaces, altering them so they are physically no longer confined spaces?  Can you make a space "non-entry" by finding other ways to complete work in and around the space?  Be thorough with these questions - getting rid of as many of your spaces as possible will result in incredible long-term savings. 

2. Complete Hazard Assessments

Once your inventory is complete, each confined space will be assessed for its hazards.  An expert is worth their weight at this stage.  Hazards vary widely and include space design and contents, the work being performed in the space, and the individuals entering the space.  The more familiar your hazard assessment expert is with your particular work environment, the more accurate their hazard assessments will be.

3. Write Safe Work Procedures

Written with an eye on your existing health and safety program, your expert will write safe work procedures for each of your spaces. These work procedures can be written to varying levels of detail, but are built on the findings of the hazard assessment previously completed for a space.  Procedures will reflect the challenges and risks of each space in order to prevent injury, loss and harm.  With this goal in mind, your procedures should be clear, usable, and straightforwrd.

4. Write Rescue Plans

If your work procedures require someone to enter one of your confined spaces, your workplace needs to be prepared to rescue that individual.  Rescue plans can be written by rescue experts.  The expert who wrote your hazard assessments and safe work procedures might be qualified to write your rescue plans, and they might not - it depends on the complexity of your spaces.  Similar to safe work procedures, rescue plans are meant to be functional.  They should be clear and usable.  Whomever writes your rescue plans will look at your hazard assessments and safe work procedures, and may also wish to visit your spaces in person.

Keep in mind that rescue is one part of your confined space program that can be outsourced.  Perhaps you'll want to have personnel on site that can perform rescues, or perhaps you'll want to contract a rescue service.  Some local fire departments provide confined space rescue services, but this is becoming less and less common.

5. Obtain Required Training

Basic levels of confined space training take only a day to complete (like our Entry & Attendant course). More complex training can take days (like our Rescue IDLH course).  Your safe work procedures and rescue plans will identify the level of training required for workers to enter - and potentially rescue - from your workplace confined spaces.

Training providers vary widely in their credibility.  Look for a training provider that's been around for some time (and doesn't show signs of dropping off the map), and who can back up their instruction with documentation.  Most certifications are valid for three years, so recognize that this step will recur on a regular basis.

6. Purchase Confined Space Equipment

The equipment you need to work and rescue within a confined space depends on a number of factors, including the internal configuraiton of the space, as well as its external surroundings. Connect with a reputable equipment supplier when purchasing your confined space equipment. Look for a dealer that can listen to your description of your needs, and offer expertise from their experience in the field. Some of the basic items you're likely to encounter include air monitors, ventilation, and anchor systems.

7. Purchase PPE

Earlier in the development of your program, the safe work procedures written for your spaces identified the functions of your workers. Will they simply be entering and working within the spaces, or expected to perform some level of rescue for their co-workers?  And if some level of rescue is expected, is it basic, or complex?  These considerations will drive the PPE purchases made in your workplace.  From basic items like harnesses, helmets and gloves, to more complex pieces like SCBA or SABA, outfitting your workers in the right PPE for their confined space roles is one of the final pieces of the confined space program puzzle.

8. Put It All Together

At this stage, you'll have the building blocks for a complete confined space program. The final step is collecting them into a unified document that complies with provincial regulations, and relevant stanadards and legislation.  Bring in an expert to ensure your compliance at this level.

You're now ready to begin using the program you've developed.  You'll want someone at your organization to take ownership of your confined space program - preferably an individual with adminstrative savvy and attention to detail. This person doesn't have to be a confined space expert, but they need the ability to track credentials, and to remain aware of changes that may affect the viability of the program.  They can also remind supervisors and managers to perform an annual review of the confined space program to ensure any necessary updates are completed.

 

These eight stages are the guiding landmarks for completing an effective confined space program. Reach out to our safety services team to learn more about any one of these steps, or about developing a complete program for your organization. 

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