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Understanding how to work in and around confined spaces can save your life. That’s an important message for B.C. farmers and food producers. While workplace injuries in agricultural confined spaces are rare, if they occur they can be serious and fatal.
In 2002, two Okanagan winemakers died in a wine fermentation tank. Six years later, on a Langley mushroom farm, three men died while working in a pump shed; another two suffered devastating injuries.
Every one of those deaths was preventable.
What is a confined space?
A confined space is an enclosed or partially enclosed area that’s big enough for a worker to enter. It may be enclosed on all sides, or on as few as two sides. On a vineyard or orchard, confined spaces may be present in a crawl space or cellar, an irrigation pump station, or even inside refrigeration equipment.
Because of the various hazards contained within these types of spaces, confined spaces are not designed for someone to work in regularly. They’re places where entry may be needed from time to time for inspection, cleaning, maintenance, or repair and should be properly assessed before any entry.
With help from the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association (FARSHA), WorkSafeBC has developed a series of safety booklets to raise awareness about best practices for working safely around confined spaces in agriculture.
“The booklets are customized for your particular type of business, and provide practical information for you, your supervisors, and your workers,” says Ian Munroe, WorkSafeBC’s Vice-President of Employer, Industry, and Worker Services. “I encourage you to read them and share them with your employees, so that together, we can ensure you — and each and every one of your employees — go home safe at the end of the day.”
What you’ll find in the booklets
These easy-to-read resources correspond to different farm and business types and include helpful information such as:
- How to identify and confined space
- How to conduct an inventory of the confined spaces on your farm
- How to get proper training
You’ll also find information and checklist to help you identify confined spaces, typical hazards, and training resources, as well as peel-and-stick safety signs you can post around your workplace to alert workers to confined spaces.
The booklets will be distributed to all farms in BC, as well as posted on
worksafebc.com/agriculture, where you can find regulations and guidelines, case studies, and images on confined spaces.
Five steps to worker safety
In addition to the booklets, there are other steps you can take to ensure the safety of your workers when it comes to confined spaces on your work site:
- Identify all the confined spaces on your farm or processing operation.
- Post warning signs outside the confined spaces, and seal or lock them to prevent anyone from entering.
- Ensure that a qualified person determines the hazards for each space.
- Communicate with your workers about the locations of confined spaces and the hazards that are present.
- Determine which spaces need to be entered.
For more information on the confined space in agriculture initiative or to download additional booklets, please visit the Safety at Work centre for agriculture at worksafebc.com/agriculture.