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NEWS: planning is essential in confined spaces


Confined spaces—we’ve discussed the dangers of working in confined spaces, confined space training and the importance of choosing the right fall protection equipment on our blog before.

On Tuesday, November 20, in Uruguay, two shoreshide dock workers died and two were hospitalized after being exposed to a fumigant. Currently, the Uruguayan Navy is unsure which chemical caused the fatalities and injuries—however, it’s believed to be caused by the treatment phosphine, a fumigation gas used to control pests in agricultural and wood product cargoes. Phosphine is denser than air and can settle into low-lying pockets, reports the Maritime Executive.

Investigators say two dock workers from an independent company entered a freighter from Panama when they lost consciousness and collapsed—a crewmember say the dock workers struggle and entered the space wearing a face mask, but removed it while trying to rescue the workers. He also collapsed and is in the hospital in an induced coma. A third member of the company is also in hospital with injuries, reports the Maritime Executive.

According to the president of the Uruguayan Transport Union, Cesar Bernal, dock workers were not aware half of the ship’s cargo was treated with a fumigant. They followed their normal procedure for entering the space in the freighter, and were affected immediately by the fumes.

The industrial trades will benefit from improved communication regarding hazardous fumes, and more effective training regarding fall arrest and confined space entry and exit training. Something like an SRL (self-retracting lifeline) may help in a situation like this, where a worker can easily lift himself from a dangerous space. The National Institute for Occupational Health & Safety reports that 60% of confined space fatalities in coastal accidents are rescuers.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) recommends that employers develop a confined space hazard assessment and control program—especially since most workers in the industrial trades will work in a confined space at least once during their career. This program should be specific to the work being done, and employers may need to implement more than one program.

A technician working offshore.

CCOHS recommends your plan include the following:

  • Description of roles and responsibilities of each person or party (e.g., employer, supervisor, workers, attendants, and emergency response team);
  • Advice on how to identify confined spaces;
  • Identification and assessment of all potential hazards that may exist at the beginning of the work as well as those that may develop because of the work activities;
  • A plan to eliminate or control all identified hazards;
  • Written work procedures;
  • Confined Space training program for all the workers that will enter confined spaces;
  • An entry permit system for each entry into a confined space;
  • Development of an emergency plan complete with training and equipment in case an unforeseen situation occurs;
  • An emergency response system;
  • Reporting and investigating incidents related to work in confined spaces;
  • Record and documentation control;
  • Program review whenever there is a change in circumstances or at least annually, to identify program weaknesses and make any necessary changes to the program.

Confined Space Training

Unfortunately, many injuries and fatalities are easy to prevent if the proper safety measures and plans are put into place. Give you and your employees the knowledge and skills they need to be safe in confined spaces. Browse information on our Confined Space Entry & Attendant, and more safety courses here.


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