Since the release of the Ontario Regulation 632 Confined Spaces in 2006, there have been numerous questions about its application and expectations. Many companies are trying to avoid the requirements of completing assessment reports, entry plans, entry permits, and policies by contracting out all work that must be undertaken for confined spaces. They are forbidding any in-house workers from entering confined spaces and only allowing contractors to complete this type of work. The standard approach is that they feel that since my employees are not entering the space, it is not my responsibility to fulfill all the expectations of entering confined spaces. Instead, they argue that its the contractor’s employees, and therefore their responsibility for fulfilling the legislative expectations. This approach has been proven to be suspect under scrutiny by the Ministry of Labour. As an employer who has a workplace with confined spaces, you are still responsible for identifying confined spaces and ensuring all the confined space entry expectations as stated in the regulation are fulfilled. This is true whether the worker is your employee or a contractor. According to the OSHA confined space definition, contracting out work for services makes you an employer. The duties of an employer under the OHSA apply regardless of the situation, and therefore you have to ensure contractors are complying with the confined space provisions. Including:
• Hazard assessments
• Entry plans
• Entry permits
• Program documentation
• Emergency rescue and equipment
• Attendants and communication methods
• Control of hazards and PPE
• Air testing and ventilation
In the unfortunate event that while working in a confined space a contractor was critically or fatally injured, the Ministry of Labour would be looking at the site owner or primary employer to ensure that the confined space entry expectations were fulfilled.
Employers cannot simply delegate out the responsibility for confined space processes to contractors, who are either not capable performing these tasks or would not have access to critical information which would reside with the primary employer. Confined space entry is high-risk work, and the employer cannot reasonably expect to demonstrate their due diligence by avoiding the responsibility. Instead, the employer should address the requirements and then work with their contractors to ensure that any workers receive the highest level of safety instruction, and controls while working in confined spaces.
Jeff Benoit, B.Sc., CK, CRSP