Practical Training for Confined Spaces

Irwin’s Safety aims to bring a higher level of safety to those who regularly deal with confined-space entry

Practical Training for Confined Spaces
A trainee wears breathing equipment while being exposed to hydrogen sulfide in a simulated workspace. The training helps to protect individuals from exposure and explains how to deal with emergencies involving H2S.

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Practice makes perfect. That adage can be applied to the safety training philosophy of Irwin’s Safety. After all, the Calgary, Alberta-based safety services provider doesn’t just provide its clients education. It — as much as possible — puts clients in the middle of real-life scenarios they might encounter on the job. That way, should they have the unfortunate experience of finding themselves in the midst of a job site emergency, they at least have some practice to fall back on. And in the oil and gas industry where job site dangers abound, that practice can mean the difference between life and death.

“I think what really helps is when you’re able to teach people in a classroom about being safe, and then actually practice that in a place that feels very similar to where they work,” says Kyle Irwin, president of Irwin’s Safety.

The company’s industrial plant simulator built into its main facility in Calgary is one of the primary ways it delivers that more immersive safety training to clients. Irwin’s Safety also has locations in Peace River and High Level, Alberta, and Kelowna, British Columbia, and uses mobile simulators that can be taken to clients for on-site training. Another aspect of the company’s approach is tailoring safety course material for
each client.

“There are so many different processes and hazards out there,” Irwin says. “We are really trying to set ourselves apart from other safety providers by being specific to the needs of that customer and that facility.”

Educating clients

The Alberta oilpatch has been a logical area to target for Irwin’s Safety as the company has grown since startup in 2009. Not just because of the proximity of the company’s home base in Calgary, but also because of the safety needs of the oil and gas industry.

In talking to prospective gas and oil customers, Irwin says one common issue he encounters is lack of training in confined-space rescue.

Irwin says the danger of substandard rescue training extends to the rescuers themselves, as they account for the majority of confined-space fatalities.

“People have been falsely told they’re trained in a rescue situation and it’s very dangerous because 60 percent of all the fatalities in confined spaces are to the rescuers,” Irwin says, citing statistics from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Irwin says people are often looking for one-day courses, and he has to explain that his company isn’t in the business of offering that kind of quick and ineffective rescue training.

“In all fairness, the people in charge aren’t specialists in rescue either and it’s not that they don’t want their people trained to a certain level,” Irwin says. “We just have to educate them.”

Last year, Irwin’s Safety covered the topic of misconceptions about confined-space entry and rescue in a blog post on its website:

Twofold approach

In order to provide that higher level of safety training, the approach of Irwin’s Safety is twofold: coursework tailored for each customer’s needs and practical knowledge acquired through simulation of emergency incidents. Each of the company’s four locations has a simulator, though the Calgary site has the most extensive one emulating an actual industrial plant environment.

“We had a large-format print done of a power facility we’ve worked in and installed it on all the walls in there, so when you go in you actually feel like you’re at a plant,” Irwin says. “We installed plant lighting as well as emergency lights and horns. We have a programmable logic controller that runs it, an Allen-Bradley PLC (Rockwell Automation), which is very similar to what you would have in a lot of oil and gas facilities.”

From a classroom, the instructor and class participants can view an emergency scenario being performed by other class participants via night vision cameras.

“The instructor can control everything from the classroom,” Irwin says. “Smoke machines come on. The emergency lights come on. The horns start to go off. So you’re starting to put stress on them in a controlled environment to see how they would react in an emergency situation.”

A variety of different safety scenarios can be simulated, from a benzene or H2S release to a fire, a fall from heights, or any type of medical emergency.

“The instructor can walk the other classmates through what is happening, and then when the other people come out of the simulator, they can all talk about it and even pull up the recording of it and relive it: This is what you did, let’s back this up and see what should have happened. Or, let’s see what you did right and what areas could be improved.”

Even away from the main office in Calgary, simulation is a key part of the company’s safety training offerings.

“Each facility has a different setup, but it’s our goal to have a simulator at each facility very similar to the one we have in Calgary,” Irwin says. “We also can — if we’re doing a high-angle or confined-space scenario — take them down to the fire department and use that type of tower. We also have mobile simulators to take to customers in which we can still do confined-space training.”

The second part of the company’s approach is moving beyond standard safety education materials and customizing them to fit each individual customer.

“We don’t just have a standard course. We make it specific to the customer,” Irwin says. “We talk to the customer prior to training and say, ‘Hey, what is an emergency you guys have had in the last year?’ and we tailor the classroom work around that. That’s why we’re really targeting the larger oil and gas companies with quite a few employees, because it takes a significant investment on our end to make some changes and revisions to our courses for each customer. But we really think that’s the best and most effective way to do quality training.”


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