Blog Post #26 – Three Lives Lost in a Confined Space

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

The lack of training or just the lack of understanding of a confined space and its associated hazards was at the heart of an accident at a Quebec campsite. This happens a few years ago, (August 2004, to be exact) and an employee of Camping Lac Du Repos, located in the municipality of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, was trying to unclog the outlet pipe of the campground’s septic system when the deadly events were set in motion.

Steve Villeneuve climbed down into the pumping station adjacent to the septic tank and unlocked the flow pipe. This released a flood of liquid and H2S (Hydrogen Sulphide) from the septic tank into the station. Villeneuve, immediately overcome, collapsed on the ladder and died. (H2S is a highly toxic gas, which comes from the decomposition of organic matter) The TWAEV was set at 10ppm.

The owner, Rejean Royer, tried to rescue Villeneuve but he too succumbed to the gas. He fell to the floor and could not be revived. A camper then descended into the station and passed out on the ladder, but was later rescued and he was revived. Two more campers attempted a rescue, one perishing.

The CSST, the Quebec equivalent to the Ministry of Labour for Ontario, estimated the H2S level at more than 500ppm, far above the workplace limit of 15ppm for STEL (short term exposure limit) Although volunteer firefighters with the municipality intervened, the CSST concluded they lacked the appropriate training and equipment for a confined space rescue. The sad part is that, as late as 2004, many volunteer fire departments in Canada are ill-prepared for confined space jobs, says Ron Campbell, president of Acute Environmental Services in Waterloo, Ontario. “Most of them, because of budgets, have their standard air packs for dealing with emergencies like house fires or carbon monoxide in homes, but their equipment is not designed for confined space rescue or retrieval,” says Campbell, who trains firefighters in confined space rescue.

The numbers seem to pan out. Most people killed around a confined space are the rescuers. The number seem high but 75% would be nearly accurate here. Three out of four died in the confined space, 2 being the attempted rescuers. (66%)

In Confined Space Entry training, trainees are told that entry is a planned event.

Many things have to take place:

1) The confined space on any property has to be identified;
2) A plan has to be put into place;
3) Confined Space Entry training has to be provided;
4) Entrant training;
5) Attendant training;
6) Training in the use of Personal Protective Equipment(PPE);
7) Provide the PPE; and
8) Air Monitoring Protocols, which include possible purging and/or inerting of the space and then ventilation.

The above list is the responsibility of the employer. Ignorance of the law is no defence. If you suspect any work to be done in a space you may feel to be a confined one, but you are not sure, call in an expert.

If you are not sure what constitutes a confined space answer these 2 questions:
a) Is the space meant for continuous occupation; and
b) Can the space have a potential hazardous atmosphere.

If you answer NO to the first and YES to the second then you have a defined confined space and must approach it cautiously and only after receiving competent training.

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including Confined Space Entry. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at

Remember — In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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