Tim Morrison, General Manager at Trademark Safety & Rescue Ltd, is addressing the need for more trained, competent workers in confined spaces. “Trademark is about getting people in and out of confined spaces – sewers, tanks, tunnels – and I’ve been doing this since 1983–1984 and never had a real job other than that,” says Morrison of the Stouffville, Ontario-based business.
From large utility companies to cement manufacturers, 50,000-plus seat sports stadiums, bakeries, internationally-known art galleries, and racetracks, all have one thing in common: unique and often hard-to-access confined spaces. While there is no one definition of ‘confined space,’ these areas usually are never intended for human occupancy, as they are without the benefit of adequate lighting, heating, ventilation, large doorways, or sufficient ceiling height. Confined spaces are often hard to access and also have hazards inside, increasing the likelihood of injury for anyone inexperienced or unprepared who enters them.
An estimated 75,000 companies or organizations in Ontario have some form of confined space that workers must enter for inspection or maintenance, like sumps, ovens, or tunnels. It is quite a broad spectrum. Most people think of tanks, but there are so many other things that can qualify as a confined space. “Many organizations have some type of confined space, and it is generally something they don’t go into on a regular basis,” says Morrison. “That gives us the opportunity to provide our services, personnel, and equipment so the company can go in and do a maintenance program.”
Morrison has been in the industry since the early 1980s and initially trained as an EMT/firefighter. He went to work for an oil patch safety company. Tragically, the very first day on the job saw an oil well blow out, that caused workers to suffer injuries ranging from third-degree burns to broken bones. He decided to switch careers and stay in industry as he believed the work was more interesting than in a municipality. He worked for the safety company in Edmonton for seven years but moved back to Toronto in 1989 and used his experiences to create his first confined spaces business.
The company was affected by the worldwide recession of 2008 and closed. However, an acquaintance helped with funding, and his new business, Trademark Safety & Rescue Ltd., was launched in 2011.
Trademark Safety & Rescue’s roughly dozen staff members are composed mainly of paramedics, aspiring firefighters from pre-service training programs, and others. These people already have some experience in areas like breathing devices and advanced first aid. At the company, their skills are complemented with in-class and on-the-job training with other critical areas including courses in hazardous assessment, gas monitoring, retrieval systems, and ventilation in a carefully cultivated job development program created by Trademark.
In many confined space courses, trainees go through some of the basics and are done in one or two days. At Trademark Safety & Rescue, new workers spend two days on gas detection training alone. “The legislation asks for competent people, and that’s theoretically what we are hiring out,” states Morrison. “They need to have more skills than a generic confined space training course. Our employees learn skills often not addressed adequately elsewhere.”
Morrison is a member of the Canadian Standard Association’s technical committee which put together the CSA Z1006-16, the latest version of the standard for working in confined spaces, a valuable reference to help make workplaces across Canada safer. The project has seen two published editions, with the process for a third expected to start in about a year.
Even with the CSA Z1006-16, many organizations across Canada continue to struggle with confined spaces and how to work in them effectively and safely. This is where Trademark Safety & Rescue’s decades of combined expertise come into the picture. While there are not necessarily fatalities from inexperienced people entering and working in confined areas, injuries and inefficiencies do happen, and there is a growing need for the company’s services.
There are over two dozen other companies providing competing services in the province, but Trademark Safety & Rescue has created and nurtured a unique niche for itself. “We like to think that we are competing with the knowledge and experience that we have,” says Morrison.
Entering and working in confined spaces is about much more than just gaining access, since not all areas are the same. Tunnels are vastly different from tanks, for example, and will likely require different gear to enter and work safely.
Trademark Safety & Rescue’s first step when on site is to conduct a hazard assessment of the confined space. Then, based on this knowledge, the company puts the many aspects such as gas detection or ventilation and other safety systems into play.
Gas detection is one aspect that, if missing, can lead to catastrophic results. However, you must get the right sensors in the right spot to detect the gas or vapour hazard that is actually present in the space. Often many bring no monitor or the wrong monitor and/or perform gas detection incorrectly. Depending on the studies you read, incorrect monitoring has created over 30 percent or more of all confined space fatalities.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is another significant component of keeping workers safe. Because of the temporary nature of this work, engineering controls to keep workers safe are often impractical to set up, so there is a reliance on PPE. Depending on the confined space, PPE may include respiratory protection, or cool vests because of the heat involved, kneepads, or even specialized gloves for working with oils, water, or layers of dust.
“You have to look at the personal protective equipment an individual will bring, and it may or may not suit the needs of what they are going into,” says Morrison. “No two confined spaces are alike, so the PPE used in one facility may not be adequate in another facility. So recognizing those issues and making those changes is important.”
Good safety systems lower the chances of an incident in a confined space, but there is still the possibility of something going wrong. Much like house or automobile insurance, companies hope they never have to use confined space rescue procedures, but if they do, they want to ensure they have the necessary coverage.
Trademark Safety & Rescue also provides an emergency response if an injury occurs within a confined space, as it is nearly impossible to eliminate hazards. Although toxic gases are detectable, there is still the chance someone could fall or have a medical condition occur.
Again, like other aspects of confined space, each space can present a variety of retrieval challenges. CSA Z1006-16 in Annex shows a logic tree outlining three distinct rescue responses. This, coupled with the different tools that each response has, can create a very complicated retrieval plan along with a large cache of gear. The more gear, the more training and/or practice people need to deploy and use it correctly.
After all these years in the industry, Morrison is still surprised that some clients fail to verify their confined space rescue systems. “One of the biggest things I find is people put these plans on paper, but they’ve never tested it,” he says. “And until you actually go and test something, you have no idea whether it’s actually going to work or not. It’s one thing to fill out the paperwork and have a procedure, but another to actually perform the procedure to ensure that it works,” he says.
“In addition, you have to practice these skills. How often have you learned something, stopped doing it and then gone back to it a year or longer later. Yes it will come back to you, but it takes time for it to come back. My question is, ‘Does your patient have that time?’”
“Get a handle on your confined space program,” is Morrison’s message to organizations. “It’s not that Pandora’s box that everybody thinks it is. There are a number of organizations like ourselves that are competent and do bring value to the job site. Contacting us during the planning stages means we can provide a better value to you then showing up the day of, and our hands are kind of tied as to what we can help you with.”