Farmers often find themselves in a tight spot — when a hedging strategy goes south or another non-tariff barrier appears out of nowhere. But that’s nothing compared to the tight spot of a confined space.
Confined spaces are common on the farm. They come in all shapes and sizes. Think silos, grain bins, manure pits, controlled atmosphere storage buildings, deep trenches and well shafts, just to name a few. They can’t be defined by the size of opening to the air. A confined space may have a manhole lid or an open top as in a manure pit. Size doesn’t matter. Every confined space has the potential to be deadly.
Here’s the deal. Never enter a confined space without testing and venting the area. If you don’t, you could be overcome by fumes and pass out or die due to lack of oxygen or toxic gases. Once you realize your mistake, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have time to get out.
Fortunately, confined space fatalities don’t happen every day but when they do, they often take more than one person. It’s against human nature not to rush in to rescue, but the results are doubly tragic when this happens.
So, why not take the time to check out your operation.
Walk around and closely evaluate each work area with new eyes. Really look for confined spaces — not only the obvious deep trenches or pits but also the less obvious (underground tanks, for instance).
Post warning signs “DANGER! CONFINED SPACE. DO NOT ENTER” on, or next to, all the confined spaces you identify. Make sure the signs are sturdy and weatherproof. Keep the signs clean and readable.
Be sure that all openings to confined spaces are appropriately covered or blocked off.
For example, cover openings to manure pits with substantial metal grill covers to provide natural ventilation and help prevent accidental falls or unauthorized entry.
If employees are not required to enter a confined space, lock the opening to prevent entry.
Institute a system for warning visitors, family members and employees about the dangers of confined spaces. For visitors, this could be as simple as designating someone to tell them where the confined spaces are located and what the warning signs look like.
Train your family and workers who are not authorized to enter confined spaces about the dangers and why it’s important to stay out. Tell them to obey all warning signs on and around confined spaces, avoid going near confined spaces while smoking or using electrical equipment, and notify someone who has been trained in confined space rescue operations if they spot anyone in trouble in a confined space.
If you must enter a confined space on the farm:
Test the atmosphere for oxygen and for levels of toxic and explosive gases.
If a dangerous atmosphere exists, wear a self-contained breathing apparatus. Ventilate the area as thoroughly as possible.
Lock out all mechanical and electrical equipment.
Use the “buddy” system and wear a lifeline. Sufficient equipment and manpower must be available. A third person should be on hand to summon assistance, if needed.
Before you go in, figure out how you will communicate with your “buddy.” The meaning of verbal signals, hand gestures or tugging line signals must be understood by the people on the outside.
Make sure that all others STAY OUT! The most important safety instruction you can give family members, visitors, and untrained workers is to STAY OUT!
For more specific tips on confined spaces safety, check out http://www2.worksafebc.com/Topics/ConfinedSpaces/Agriculture.asp. You’ll find essential information on identifying hazards, working safely despite those hazards and advice for confined space rescues. Among the references listed on that site is a book Safety and Health in Confined Spaces by Neil McManus of WorkSafe BC. Neil will be in Winnipeg November 15 this year to lead a Confined Spaces Workshop as part of the annual conference of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association. Check it out at www.planfarmsafety.ca.