Facing down confined spaces on BC farms

Below-ground valve box at a dairy farm. Image from WorkSafeBC

Below-ground valve box at a dairy farm. Image from WorkSafeBC

Toxic gases or lack of oxygen can strike suddenly, without warning, even when the task is something you’ve been doing the same way for decades. That’s why safety advocates in BC are reaching out to farm and ranch workers to minimize risks of working in confined spaces.

Ranch safety consultant Reg Steward is the Superintendent of Field Operations for the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association (FARSHA). He helps ranchers and farmers to meet compliance with BC safety law and regulations, offering free, confidential advice for each individual workplace.

“Often that involves understanding what the regulations require and then working the standard that has been identified within the regulation,” Reg said, describing the walk-around they do on each property. “When it comes to confined spaces, most farmers and ranchers lack a clear understanding and awareness of what is a confined space.”

Root cellars, crawl spaces, and turn-off valves under buildings are examples of confined spaces that may not be identified as such by their owners. Some farmers and ranchers have been entering these confined spaces for many years and may not recognize the associated hazards.

“Their experience can work against them, given the fact that they have not had a struggle with that space over time,” Reg said, describing how many of these risks can be addressed with “simple solves.”

Don’t go in

That’s the ideal solution – if possible. Technology and brain power can find ways to complete a process that doesn’t involve a human being at risk in a confined space. Reg and his team work with farmers to look at their confined spaces and find ways to keep out of them – whatever the operation may be.

“We’ve been very successful in finding some creative ways to manage the spaces and eliminate the need to enter them,” Reg said.

More information on the above hazards is now available at the Confined Spaces Awareness Training: What all Agriculture Workers Need to Know.

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