Ontario’s New Confined Space Regulations

Occupational Health & Safety
PEN #29

Tough New Requirements Effective 30 September 2006 Will Impact Most Ontario Workplaces

Effective 30 September 2006, the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) will be enforcing new and expanded requirements for confined space entry. Amendments to the four existing sector regulations (i.e. Construction, Health Care, Industrial and Mining), along with a new stand alone regulation (Regulation for Confined Spaces; O.Reg. 632) significantly change how employers will manage confined space entries in their workplaces and on project sites. The amendments culminate a five year process, which were required, in part, to respond to recommendations made by a Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of two workers in 1997 in a confined space in a Hamilton, Ontario steel mill.

The new Regulation for Confined Spaces applies to most workplaces not covered by the provisions of an existing sector regulation. These “extended workplaces” include employees such as teachers, municipal maintenance workers, and those working in Corrections.

There are exceptions to the regulations, most notably firefighters performing emergency work. Emergency work is defined as, “work performed in connection with an unforeseen event that involves an imminent danger to the life, health and safety of any person.” The exception also extends to workers certified under the Technical Standards and Safety Act, 2000 working under the direction of a fire department. Although the regulations understandably exempt the employers of these workers from many of the new requirements, written procedures, training, and personal protective equipment must nonetheless be provided to protect these employees during emergency work.

What is a confined space?

Each regulation uses the same definition. A confined space means a fully or partially enclosed space,

  1. that is not both designed and constructed for continuous human occupancy, and
  2. in which atmospheric hazards may occur because of its construction, location or contents, or because of work that is done in it.

It is important to note that both conditions (a and b) must apply in order for the space to meet the definition of a confined space, and thus trigger the requirements of the new regulations. Simply entering a space that is not designed for continuous human occupancy does not constitute a confined space entry (even if it is small, cramped or has limited access), unless the space also contains a hazardous atmosphere, or one may be created by the work conducted inside the space. This much clearer definition of a confined space has significant impact. In most of our projects conducted over the summer of 2006, our clients reduced their list of confined spaces substantially, leaving only those spaces that are truly hazardous on their inventory. These true confined spaces warrant the much more onerous planning, training and documentation required by the new regulations.

The MOL has indicated that spaces such as storage tanks, boilers, pits, sewers and ovens would not be considered “both designed and constructed for continuous human occupancy”. Again, this does not mean that all storage tanks or ovens are confined spaces, only that part a) of the definition noted above has been met. In order for the space to be a confined space, a hazardous atmosphere must also exist, or potentially exist. Service rooms (e.g. mechanical rooms), walk-in freezers, laboratories and flammable liquid storage rooms have been identified by the MOL as examples of spaces “designed and constructed for continuous human occupancy”.

Understanding the definition of “hazardous atmosphere” is equally important in the evaluation of potential confined spaces. A “hazardous atmosphere” means:

  1. the accumulation of flammable, combustible or explosive agents;
  2. an oxygen content that is less than 19.5% or more than 23%; or
  3. the accumulation of atmospheric contaminants that could result in acute health effects that pose an immediate threat to life or interfere with a person’s ability to escape unaided from a confined space.

A hazardous atmosphere could result from the contents of the space, work done inside the space (e.g. welding), adjacent operations that may cross contaminate the space, or chemical or biological activity within the space (e.g. rusting; decomposition of organic materials).

Again, it is important to understand that the mere presence of a chemical agent inside a space does not render it a confined space. For example, with respect to toxic agents (i.e. item c) in the definition above, the atmospheric contaminant must be present (or anticipated to be present) at a concentration that will be immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH), and not just above the occupational exposure limit for that contaminant.

What do the Regulations Require?

If confined spaces are present in the workplace and workers may enter them, the employer must ensure compliance with the new regulations. Of course, the best approach is to eliminate confined spaces or the need to enter them. For example, whenever possible, the work should be performed from outside the space, or if the hazards can be eliminated prior to entry, then the confined space regulatory requirements would not apply (although other safety controls may be needed to comply with other sections of the various regulations).

It should be noted that “controlling” hazards is not the same as “eliminating” hazards. Control of atmospheric hazards through such means as mechanical ventilation may maintain acceptable air quality but would not eliminate the possibility of an unsafe atmosphere, and thus, the confined space provisions of the regulations would still apply.

The provisions of the five regulations are very similar. In general, they will require the employer to take the following steps:

I. Develop a Confined Space Entry Program

Every employer who has a confined space that may be entered by a worker must develop a written confined space program. The program must include the employer’s methods of identifying confined spaces, assessing the hazards of confined spaces, developing entry plans, providing worker training, and establishing an entry permit system. Essentially, the program is a management plan and would apply to the entire organization or facility, as opposed to individual confined spaces.

II. Conduct Hazard Assessments

Prior to entering a confined space, an assessment of hazards associated with the space and the work that is to be done in it must be conducted. The assessment must consider both atmospheric and non-atmospheric hazards.

PEN 29: Table 1 - Common Confined Space HazardsA list of common hazards associated with confined space entry is provided in Table 1.  (Click image.)

 The assessment must be conducted by a person with “adequate knowledge, training and experience” (or by a “competent worker” on a construction project). The written assessment document must be signed and dated by the person performing the assessment, and a record of the person’s qualifications must be maintained by the employer.

It should be noted that an assessment must be conducted for each confined space entry. Although previous assessment documents may be a useful reference, a new assessment is needed for each entry to ensure that any new hazards that may have been introduced into the space, or any new hazards associated with the planned work inside the space, have been identified.

If the workplace has a number of confined spaces that are similar in construction and present the same hazards, one assessment can be conducted and applied to all of the spaces. However, each space to which the assessment applies must be identified on the assessment document.

The assessment is a critical step in the entry process, as all hazards must be identified if the work is to be completed successfully and safely. The assessment findings are used to prepare an entry plan, and a poorly done assessment may lead to an incomplete and unsafe plan.

III. Develop Plans

Once the hazards of the space and the work to be done in it have been identified, a written plan must be developed by a competent person to control the hazards identified in the assessment. In other words, the plan is tied to the related assessment. 

PEN 29: Table 2 - What is in a Plan ?The regulations require that the plan contain the provisions listed in Table 2.  (Click image.)

Similar to assessments, one plan can apply to more than one space, as long as those spaces are of similar construction and present the same hazards. And of course, plans must be reviewed as often as is necessary to ensure that they remain relevant and adequate.

A significant addition to the regulations is the requirement for written, on-site rescue procedures that must be ready for immediate implementation. The use of “911” for rescue is not permitted. Rescue equipment may include full-body harnesses, lifelines, and hoist systems used to retrieve a downed worker from outside the space, but in some cases “entry rescue” may be the only feasible means to rescue an entrant.

The regulations are also very specific on the duties of attendants. Attendants are to be located outside and near the entrance to the confined space, provide assistance to the entrants from outside the space, be in constant communication with the entrants, be provided with a device to summon a rescue response, and must not enter the confined space at any time.

Another new provision in the regulations deals with “multiple employer entries”. If workers from more than one employer participate in an entry, a lead employer must be identified (see sidebar). The lead employer (or the constructor on a construction project) is responsible for preparing a coordination document, which must clearly outline the roles of each employer involved in the entry (e.g. entrants and those conducting “related work” such as attendants) to ensure the health and safety of all employees.

The plan must also include a requirement for air testing. Prior to and as often as is necessary during the confined space entry, a person with adequate knowledge, training and experience must conduct air testing to ensure that acceptable atmospheric contaminant levels are maintained. The results of testing are recorded on an entry permit (discussed below). For the most part, acceptable atmospheric levels of toxic agents will be defined as the occupational exposure limits set in the Ontario Regulation respecting Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents (O.Reg. 833) or applicable designated substance regulations. Acceptable levels of “flammables” and “oxygen” are noted in the sector regulations and O.Reg. 632.

The agents to be sampled will be identified during the assessment and noted on the relevant plan and permit. Typically, sampling is conducted for “flammables, oxygen, and toxics” (e.g. carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide). Sampling must be conducted using calibrated instruments. It should be noted that re-testing must be performed if the confined space has been both unoccupied and unattended, for example if both the attendant and the entrant leave the work area to take a lunch break.

Who is a “Lead Employer”?

The regulations (except the construction regulation) define a lead employer as:

… an employer who contracts for the services of one or more other employers or independent contractors in relation to one or more confined spaces that are located,

         a) in the lead employer’s own workplace, or

         b) in another employer’s workplace.

The lead employer is responsible for preparing the coordination document, except on construction projects where the constructor is responsible for this task.

IV. Provide Training

Every worker who enters a confined space or conducts “related work” (e.g. acts as an attendant or is part of a rescue team) must receive adequate training. All the regulations require plan-specific training, although the language used in the construction regulation differs from that of the other regulations. Common to all regulations is the requirement to provide training in the recognition of hazards and safe work practices for work in a confined space in accordance with the relevant plan. Each regulation also requires that prescribed training records be kept.

Workers must also be trained on the safety equipment (e.g. blowers), personal protective equipment, procedures (work and emergency) they will use. Rescue workers must be trained on the on-site rescue procedures, use of the rescue equipment, first aid, and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

In all the regulations, save the construction regulation, confined space training must be developed in consultation with the Joint Health and Safety Committee, or Health and Safety Representative, and the training must be reviewed whenever there is a change in circumstances that may affect worker safety, or at least once annually.

V. Develop Permits

A written entry permit is required to ensure that each entry team member understands the work to be done inside the confined space, the associated hazards and the established control measures. Much of the information included in the permit will already have been identified during preparation of the associated plan. In fact, it is permissible to incorporate the plan into a permit.

An entry permit must be opened for each confied space entry, and must include, at a minimum, the items listed in Table 3.

Table: What is on a Permit ?

For work that extends into a second shift, the initial entry permit does not necessarily have to be closed and a second separate permit prepared for the second shift. However, if a new permit is not opened, then at the beginning of each shift, a competent person must verify that the initial entry permit continues to comply with the relevant plan.

VI. Keep Records

The new regulations are very prescriptive with regard to the types of records that must be kept and for how long they must be maintained. Table 4 lists the types of documents that must be kept. It should be noted that these documents must be maintained for at least one year after they were created, or a longer period as necessary to ensure that the last two records of each document are kept. On construction projects, records must be maintained for the duration of the project and for one year after the project is completed.

PEN 29: Table 4 - What Kind of Confined Space Records Must Be Kept


The new confined space regulations have, as intended, strengthened the requirements for entry into these high hazard spaces, provided greater consistency across the various sector regulations, and have expanded the number of workplaces covered by specific regulatory requirements. The improved clarity and consistency will improve compliance across previously regulated sectors and the newly covered employers. The prescriptive nature of the new regulations will make the management of confined space work easier (particularly for smaller employers with limited internal resources). The definition of a confined space has been clarified, which will minimize confusion during the evaluation of true confined spaces and those spaces that are merely cramped or of limited access. Overall, in our opinion, the strengthened requirements related to assessing, planning, training and documentation will enhance the health and safety of Ontario workers.

This newsletter has highlighted the main provisions of the new regulations. For more detailed information, refer to the actual regulations (available from the MOL’s website or call Pinchin’s OH&S Group. The MOL has also published a “Confined Space Guideline” which is available from their website at http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/confined/cs_4.php.

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