Confined space regulations, redefined: 3 key changes

Are your safety measures up to par with how confined space regulations are progressing? 

New technologies, updated industrial processes, and expanded awareness of familiar hazards: they’re all leading to new confined space regulations around the world. Any program that’s meant to keep workers safe (and your company compliant) will need to continuously adapt alongside them. Here’s a snapshot of 3 common ways today’s regulators are tightening requirements for confined spaces – so to speak. 

1. Expanding the scope of what’s considered “confined.”

One way we see countries re-shaping confined space regulations is through redefining what kind of workspace falls within those safety obligations.  

An example is the Quebec government’s intention to amend the Regulation Respecting Occupational Health and Safety, planned to be in effect by 5 July 2022. Here, companies carrying out activities in confined spaces will have to comply with updated provisions regarding gathering information before starting activities in confined spaces in the future.  

First, the definition of confined spaces would be updated to include any area that is entirely or partially enclosed. This would include spaces such as reservoirs, vaults, pipes, trucks or freight car tanks that present certain risks, such as asphyxia, intoxication, or loss of consciousness or judgment. 

As such, when installing or renovating confined spaces, companies would be required to integrate equipment and installations, enabling an intervention from the outside. Additionally, companies would have to develop work methods, taking into account the risks, and keeping them available within the workplace. Then, before starting an activity in a confined space, the company would need to gather information on the risks associated with the atmosphere. 

Alongside new and more stringent regulations, are more obligations for managing the requirements.

2. Concentrating on safe oxygen levels.

In addition to regulating different types of spaces, other changes in confined space regulations focus on what’s inside the space itself. 

In the US, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (OBWC) has proposed amendments to their Workshops and Factories regulations that are like the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Among other points, they propose amending the rules around confined spaces. 

If it goes into effect, the change would add safety specifications for the air within the confined space. Specifically, the proposal suggests that the space must have a range of at least 19.5% to 23.5% oxygen concentration to be adequate for an employee to enter. Should a space have a lower concentration, employees would be required to wear personal protective equipment in order to enter.  

3. Tightening the management of confined space regulations.

Alongside new and more stringent confined space regulations, we also see a trend of increasing obligations for managing them. This is especially the case in Asia Pacific countries, where regulators are ramping up a variety of health & safety requirements. 

In Sichuan, China, industrial companies who undertake operations in confined spaces should expect tightened safety management requirements and law enforcement already within the next few months. This is due to the Notice on Strengthening Confined Space Operation Management for Industrial Companies – a policy document issued by the Sichuan Emergency Management Department. 

The policy would initiate the re-inspection of companies’ safety management measures regarding the prevention of/response to industrial accidents in confined spaces. After which, there will be not only much stronger supervision of safety training in the region but also law enforcement for any safety management infractions. Additionally, companies operating in this area will need to establish a confined space operation management system according to the Sichuan safety guidelines

Stay aligned with changing confined space regulations.

Inside, outside, and all around the world, as long as our ways of working evolve, so will safety requirements like confined space regulations. Make sure that your safety measures up to par (and have the ability to adapt) by starting with a clear view of the latest regulatory updates – everywhere you operate. Then future-proof your health & safety program with a forward-looking view of what could change down the road, including potential impact like new policies, global trends, and other related issues. The more you can plan ahead of developments, the more protection you can offer employees, anywhere they work. 

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