Facing down confined spaces on BC farms

September 17, 2014

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 Centre of Excellence for Confined Spaces in Agriculture – created in partnership by FARSHA and WorkSafeBC. There you’ll find eight farm-specific books, as well as general resources in multiple languages.

Finding employers who expose workers to asbestos

September 10, 2014

Image from  Cash Corners: Worker Rights, a new video from WorkSafeBC

Image from Cash Corners: Worker Rights, a new video from WorkSafeBC

They’re ready to work – no questions asked. I’m talking about workers hired off the street for residential demolition projects – to carry off materials that haven’t always been tested for asbestos, as is required by law in BC.

Their employers are among those targeted during planned inspections of residential demolition worksites.

WorkSafeBC officers are inspecting these projects to “…ensure homeowners, prime contractors, hazardous material survey contractors, asbestos abatement contractors, and consultants are informed and equipped to safely remove asbestos containing materials and are complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation,” says WorkSafeBC about this project that runs from March 17 to December 31, 2014.

For full details, please read Asbestos: be aware enforcement initiative.

Risking safety in favour of profit

A new video from WorkSafeBC – Cash Corners: Worker Rights – shows what it’s like for workers hired off the street. Its message to workers is this: “Even if you’re hired off the street, you have the right to a health and safety orientation, training, supervision, and a safe workplace.”

However, this is not always the case.

“There’s probably little dialogue about safety or what the potential hazard could be from the material they’re moving,” says Gary McComb, a regional prevention manager for WorkSafeBC. Gary leads a team of eight safety inspectors focused on asbestos in residential construction projects in the Lower Mainland.

“It’s very labour-intensive so, typically in residential, you’ll find vulnerable workers that are either transient or have other issues. They believe they need the cash and aren’t going to ask lots of questions – or sometimes they’re just young and naive and they’re not even aware of the hazard.”

Law requires contractors to test for, abate, and remove asbestos, but many contractors ignore the laws to save money. Some contractors set themselves up as “abatement specialists” but lack experience and skill; others have falsified documents to declare projects “asbestos-free” when they are not.

“My biggest concern when I look at it, is there’s one thing to have poor abatement practices, which is atrocious but what really concerns me is when they’re declaring it clean or they’re not finding out if it’s dirty at all. And then they’re just saying it’s clean and letting crews go in there with no protection at all – and they’re just taking it out.”

Gary said he’d like to see partnerships across jurisdictions – like what’s been established with the City of Vancouver’s Hazardous Materials Reporting survey required for residential construction projects.

“They’re doing an outstanding job as far as I’m concerned,” said Gary. “Part of their process is they actually require a hazardous materials survey to be submitted to them. They’re actually looking at these things and it’s red flagged and they notify us.”

For more information on asbestos – which remains the number one cause of workplace death in BC – see hiddenkiller.ca.

Facing down confined spaces on BC farms

Safety advocates in BC are reaching out to farm workers to minimize risks of confined spaces. Help is available in person and on-line in multiple languages at the Confined Space Centre of Excellence for Agriculture.

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