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 Health & Safety

Confined Spaces — Deadly Spaces Are you at risk?

By Dawn Ianson A

cross Canada in recent years, farm owners, work- ers, and family members have died or been seri-

ously injured from entering confined spaces on their farms. The Canadian Agricultural Injury Surveillance Program reported 37 deaths of farm owners, workers and/or their family members between 1990 and 2000. Fourteen of these deaths were related to manure pits and the release of dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas. Similarly, two deaths were related to root cellars and insufficient oxygen.

Many other farm workers have had extremely close calls. Virtually every farm or agricultural operation has confined spaces, and they are an essential part of the operation. But who would have given a thought to the risks of a root cellar?

When equipment fails, gets jammed, or breaks down it is often at the most inconvenient time. Crops need to be watered, animals need to be fed and pits cleaned, so farm owners, workers, and family members continue to risk entering confined spaces so the work can con- tinue uninterrupted. This risky choice is far from sen- sible with the knowledge we have today about these environments, and it is unacceptable if you:

• do not know whether the air is safe to breathe; • are unsure whether all moving parts have been de-energized (e.g. paddles in the milk tank) and locked out;

• do not have appropriate safety and rescue gear; and • are alone with no one to maintain voice contact with you outside of the confined space.

However, with some advance preparation and plan- ning, you can take control of confined-space safety on your farm and never have to take chances with your life or the lives of others. Death and serious injuries can be prevented by identifying confined spaces and developing, in consultation with a qualified individual, work procedures that eliminate or minimize the haz- ards of entering confined spaces.

What is a Confined Space?

Confined spaces are not always easy to identify. Start by looking at confined areas where work does not nor- mally take place and where it might be difficult to get

an injured person out of the area. A confined space may be enclosed or partially enclosed and large enough that a person can enter to perform duties. Some examples include: silos; grain bins; manure pits; water cisterns; waste water sumps; and root cellars.

You may find it necessary to consult a qualified person to identify the confined spaces on your farm. Get in touch with the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health As- sociation (FARSHA) representative for your area.

Warning signs

The farmer/farm owner must ensure that all confined spaces are clearly labelled. Every point of access to a confined space must be either:

• secured against entry; or • identified by a sign or other means, indicating the nature of the hazard and prohibiting entry to either all or unauthorized workers.

For more information, please visit the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association.

Dawn Ianson is a WorkSafeBC prevention officer working on Vancouver Island, in the Agriculture Sec- tor. She can be reached via email at dawn.ianson@ to get more information.

BC Organic Grower, Volume 17, Number 1, Winter 2014 Page 7

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