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Protecting workers in tight spaces

A Canadian first, the CSA has defined confined environments in a new national standard as “a workspace that is fully or partially enclosed; not designed or intended for continuous human occupancy and has limited or restricted access.”


July 6, 2010
by NOELLE STAPINSKY

Demonstrating A Confined-Space Rescue.

Photo: Noelle Stapinsky

When the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) announced a new national standard for working in confined spaces, I looked at the three cubicle walls closing in around me, my chair crammed between a filing cabinet and a “space-saving” Ikea closet, and the stacks of paper just waiting to bury me alive.

Of course, there are much more dangerous workspaces. Every day in Canada, even the most skilled workers in extremely confined spaces can become trapped, injured or subjected to toxins.

A Canadian first, the CSA has defined confined environments in a new national standard as “a workspace that is fully or partially enclosed; not designed or intended for continuous human occupancy and has limited or restricted access…”

Z1006 Management of Work in Confined Spaces is meant to help managers, workers and rescuers identify potential risks and create action plans to prevent accidents and coordinating rescue procedures.

“More than 60% of confined space fatalities are rescue workers,” says Suzanne Kiraly, the newly appointed president of CSA Standards. “Industry statistics say that 80% of those accidents could be avoided.”

Almost all industries require workers to enter cramped spaces, such as shipping containers, pump stations, boilers, chemical tanks and underground tunnels.

Kiraly recalled an accident in 2006 that involved a worker who entered a water sampling shed at a BC mining site to look for a missing co-worker. He called 911 after finding the man’s body and soon collapsed. Two paramedics responded and also died from a lack of oxygen.

“This standard gives fire services, governments, workers and manufacturers one consistent approach,” says Kiraly. “It’s a tool for governments across the country to use or reference in legislation.”

Although the Z1006 standard is not mandatory, Jim Armstrong, chief of client services for Safe Workplace Promotion Services Ontario, notes it helps translate the language of regulatory standards, and “we hope workplaces embrace this standard.”

Currently, standards and regulations for such workplace safety vary across the country, but Z1006 offers a national regulation.

Various federal, provincial and occupational health and safety government agencies funded Z1006’s development by industry experts from various sectors including steel, energy, manufacturing, chemical, petro-chemical, emergency services, pulp and paper, mining, railway and telecommunications.