Home Inspector Safety – Deciding what is a confined space, and whether to enter it or not


What is a confined space?

Many workplaces contain areas that are considered “confined spaces” because while they are not necessarily designed for people, they are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs.

A confined space also has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy. 

What are examples of confined spaces, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, pump stations, scale pits, crawl spaces, tunnels.

Before entering a confined space (crawl space), there are some things you should ask yourself.

  1. Is the access big enough to enter.
  2. Has a limited entry/exit area.
  3. Is not designed for continuous periods of occupancy.
  4. May have other inhabitants, such as snakes, mice, pets, wildlife.
  5. Is it ventilated.

There are three classes of confined spaces.

Class A IDLH atmosphere.  May contain oxygen deficiency, explosive or flammable atmospheres, and /or concentrations of toxic substances

Class B – space has potential for causing injury if proper safety steps are not followed

Class C – space has potential hazards, but would not require any special modification of the work procedures.

TYPES OF CONFINED SPACE…

Non-Permitted … does NOT contain physical, chemical or atmospheric hazards capable of causing death or serious physical harm

  • Permitted… permit-required confined space has at least one of the following characteristics
    • contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
    • contains a material that has the potential to engulf an entrant
    • has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated
    • contains any other recognized serious safety and health hazard

Confined Space Hazards

  • Confined spaces info-graphic

    Info-graphic courtesy of google

    Poor air quality: There may be an insufficient amount of oxygen for the worker to breathe. The atmosphere might contain a poisonous substance that could make the worker ill or even cause the worker to lose consciousness. Natural ventilation alone will often not be sufficient to maintain breathable quality air
  • Fire Hazard: There may be an explosive/flammable atmosphere due to flammable liquids and gases and combustible dusts which if ignited would lead to fire or explosion
  • Toxic gases
  • Engulfment in solid or liquid
  • High noise levels
  • Grinding, crushing, or mixing mechanisms
  • Configuration
  • Uncontrolled energy including electrical shock
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Chemical exposures due to skin contact or ingestion as well as inhalation of ‘bad’ air
  • Lack of lighting

Additional Concerns

  • Noise
    • amplified due to acoustics of the space
    • damages hearing and affects communication
  • Slippery or wet surfaces
    • increased risk of falls and electrical shock
  • Personal protective equipment
    • more common Personal protective equipment such as hard hat, hard-toed boots, safety glasses, face shield, gloves, and overalls must be worn when needed

Why is working in a confined space more hazardous than working in other work spaces?

Many factors need to be evaluated when looking for hazards in a confined space. There is smaller margin for error. An error in identifying or evaluating potential hazards can have more serious consequences. In some cases, the conditions in a confined space are always extremely hazardous. In other cases, conditions are life threatening under an unusual combination of circumstances. This variability and unpredictability is why the hazard assessment is extremely important and must be taken very seriously each and every time one is done.

Some examples include:

  • The entrance/exit of the confined space might not allow the worker to get out in time should there be a flood or collapse of free-flowing solid.
    Self-rescue by the worker is more difficult
  • Rescue of the victim is more difficult. The interior configuration of the confined space often does not allow easy movement of people or equipment within it
  • Natural ventilation alone will often not be sufficient to maintain breathable quality air. The interior configuration of the confined space does not allow easy movement of air within it
  • Conditions can change very quickly
  • The space outside the confined space can impact on the conditions inside the confined space and vice versa
  • Work activities may introduce hazards not present initially

The final decision is on you

As an inspector, your health and safety is dependent upon you.  Going that “extra mile” for a client, and entering a hazardous confined space that ends up in your injury of death does nothing for you, your business or your loved ones.  Remember, entering a confined space is NOT REQUIRED as part of the Standards of Practice.   

Inspecting attics or crawlspaces with remote controlled cameras on an inspection pole or using a crawl-bot can often give you better information about the condition of a crawl space that actually entering it.

If you decide not to enter a confined space, don’t forget IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to document in the inspection report that you didn’t inspect and area and why, or if you inspected it via some remote control, what limitations that induced.

For more information: The Occupational Health and Safety Act, Ontario Regulation 632/05, Confined Spaces

 

Thanks to Bryson Bumstead of BDB Home Inspections for this content.  Bryson is awarded 1 CCHI CPD point for supplying the content.