(Canadian OH&S News) — The Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada (OHSTC) has upheld a federal oh&s officer’s decision requiring rescue equipment and training for those who work in Bell Canada confined spaces.
The decision, released on Sept. 10, centred on the interpretation of paragraph 11.3(d) of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR), which state that every employer shall “specify the protection equipment and emergency equipment to be used by a person who takes part in the rescue of a person from the confined space or in responding to other emergency situations in the confined space.” OHSTC appeals officer Olivier Bellavigna-Ladoux’s ruling upheld an April 2012 direction from health and safety officer Régis Tremblay, but expanded it to apply to all Bell Canada confined spaces.
Following the deaths of two workers in a confined space in Oakville, Ont. in 2007, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, which is now part of Unifor, recommended the provision of a tripod, body harness and lanyard for rescue purposes, as well as training of employees on the use of the equipment. Tremblay described the deployment of this designated equipment as a “good health and safety practice” and recommended its implementation. Bell disagreed, arguing that the company provided cellphones for workers to call 9-1-1 if needed.
“I find that the provision of a cellphone alone to call emergency services does not satisfy the requirements of paragraph 11.3(d),” Bellavigna-Ladoux wrote in the appeal decision. “Given the potential risks associated with working in confined spaces, there is a greater responsibility on the employer to ensure that proper procedures and equipment are put in place to safeguard the health and safety of employees in case of emergency.”
Bellavigna-Ladoux went on to note that a cellphone alone could be ineffective, adding that even Bell provided evidence that in six jurisdictions in Ontario (Guelph, Woodstock, Ajax-Pickering, Caledonia, Markham and Unionville), the local fire department would attend if called, but have no capacity to conduct rescue operations in a manhole. “I am very troubled by the fact that in those jurisdictions, Bell employees that found themselves in an emergency situation would not have received any assistance with emergency equipment,” he wrote.
Doug Dutton, president of Unifor Local 52 in Newmarket, Ont. and the Bell health and safety resource for Ontario, agreed that more needs to be in place than simply calling 9-1-1. “If you’re not conscious in the confined space, you won’t be able to use a cellphone, whether it works or not,” he said. Dutton added that with some fire departments, there’s a 45-minute time lag, while for others, “it depends on whether you tell them that is for confined space when you call, whether they bring the equipment or the right trucks on the initial response.”
Tremblay’s original direction for two specific types of confined spaces, which was upheld and expanded to all Bell confined spaces, orders the company to specify protective equipment, pursuant to section 11.3(d). Dutton said that there is no completion date specified, but both Bell and Unifor have contacted Tremblay to discuss implementation.
“We’re still going to have some discussion about whether that means we have to do as they do in Ontario: have rescue equipment at the site any time we enter a confined space,” Dutton said, “or whether we just need to ensure that fire departments can rescue us and what the response time is, and if the response time is not adequate in our view, then we have to have rescue equipment in place.”
Dutton said that change is “not going to happen overnight,” but he hoped that something would be in place by the end of the year. He also predicted that the decision would have implications for other federally-regulated sectors, such as transportation.
Bell, which has about 65,000 manholes in Ontario alone, could not be reached for comment by COHSN press time.