Understanding Thai OSH Law – Confined Space Entry
Thailand’s confined space entry regulations have been undergoing some upgrades over the past few years and in 2021 there was another. The most significant change is a stronger focus on the fit-for-work requirements of entrants. This article will attempt to highlight key points in the regulation and also highlight any grey areas.
Confined space accidents in Thailand are thankfully rare (compared to work at height accidents), incidents do happen and changes to the regulations are the result.
More often than not, site owners do not fully understand the regulations nor understand when to apply them properly. This lack of knowledge has led to some serious and fatal incidents.
- Recent fatalities in confined space have prompted changes to the regulations
- There is a new emphasis on fit-to-work requirements for entrants.
- Confined Space Trainees must first pass the Basic Fire Fighting training.
- Must require permission to attend training from Labour Department officials at least 7 days prior to the training and again within 30 days of receiving the training.
- Those trained and certified more than 5 years ago, must be re-certified.
- The requirements for Confined Space Rescue personnel and skills required for rescue remain somewhat unclear.
5 Fatalities in a Waste Water Tank in 2017
One of the most shocking CSE accidents happened in June 2017 at a food processing plant where 5 people lost their lives.
One of the victims was a 5th year veterinary student from Chulalongkorn University who was touring the plant and being guided by a company environmental officer and three other company employees. The four other fatalities were employees of the company.
In the accident, a student somehow got close and fell through an open hatch into a wastewater pond, prompting the environmental officer and three other staff members to rush in and try to rescue her. All five perished in the tank from inhaling toxic gases given off by the wastewater pond.
During the investigation, the police determined that the wastewater treatment area should have been identified as a confined space area and systems should have been in place to restrict entry. In this case, the factory manager was charged with negligence over the death of five people.
This was a horrific and totally preventable accident that underpins the need for factory owners to pay close attention to guarding their confined spaces.
Medical Checkups Required for Entrants
Before attending any training on confined space entry, all attendees are required to take and pass a physical checkup by a medical doctor.
Persons found to have respiratory conditions, heart disease or other conditions considered by a physician to be harmful, will not pass.
Records of the medical checks will need to be kept by the company, although this law does not specify a length of time for keeping those records.
Confined Space Training
Training for confined space is to be conducted with government approved training centres. There is a standard curriculum taught at all training centres. However, you should do your own site visits to find a training centre that has good quality (and safe) practical training modules on site.
There is no expiration date on the training however, the new regulations state that that new training or refresher training be required. The law stipulates a 5 years period dating back from 2021 and that any who are certified within that 5 year period, may take a refresher course (up to 30 days prior to the 5 year expiry of last training). Those who took training more than 5 years ago, must be medically fit for work and must re-certify.
Confined Space Rescue
The regulations require that there must be a stand-by rescue person at the entrance/exit to confined space.
Yet, the standard does not go into detail on the specialized training required for the rescue personnel. It assumes that the person at the entrance (watcher) is the rescue person and can properly affect rescue.
The Hole Watcher is also required to sign onto the Permit to Work for the confined space job, signifying that the space is free of hazards and safe to enter. He must be in position at the entryway for the entire time that there are people inside the confined space and cannot undertake any other work. This includes work in trenches that are deemed as confined space!
This person must be capable of participating in the risk analysis, setting up and using the rescue equipment, gas testing/recording and managing the entry and exit records of persons entering the confined space.
The theoretical training curriculum for the Hole Watcher shall comprise relevant subjects and the total training period is only ten hours (5 hours classroom and 5 hours practical). Some companies offer more but this is the Thai standard.
The practical training includes ventilation strategies, gas testing, basic fire extinguisher use and often some basic rope training (use of tripods). The practical training cannot be less than 5 hours in total and the curriculum looks like this.
One hour of Basic confined space subjects
One hour of training on determining the condition of air in the confined space (gas test equipment use).
One hour of training on air ventilation techniques.
Thirty minutes of training on dangers that may occur in case of emergency and method of avoiding dangers.
Thirty minutes of training on the basic of fire-extinguishing.
Thirty minutes of training on provision of assistance and rescue operation.
Thirty minutes of training on first-aid and preliminary assistance.
As you can see here, they are required to receive only 30 minutes of training on rescue.
There isn’t any provision for training on SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) which would normally be required for a confined space rescue. There is no requirement for any advanced Trauma First Aid training either. Lastly, there is no requirement or training on the development of written Rescue Plans !
As you can see here, the requirements for confined space rescue are somewhat murky.
What are your options?
There are basically two options with regards to being better prepared for confined space rescue.
- Outsource to a qualified 3rd party rescue team.
- Obtain a higher level of training for your employees assigned to the rescue team.
If you decide to outsource to a qualified rescue team, here are a few requirements you should insist on:
- The rescuers should have a higher level of first aid than just basic first aid (ideally, trained as medics). They should have the competency to use an oxygen kit, for example.
- Ideally, choose a company that has experienced fire fighters and rescue personnel.
- Their rope sets must have a “rope log” and they should show you evidence of that log. This is an NFPA 1983 Standard. Ropes will stretch over time and must be replaced (usually every 5 years).
- They should be proficient at preparing a written rescue plan that can be updated as conditions change.
- The MUST be trained to rescue using SCBA kits (self-contained breathing apparatus – used by fire fighters).
- They should be trained to a higher level of rope rescue than local standard. I recommend either International Technical Rope Rescue Association (ITRA) or Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) certified. Both are available in Thailand.
- Ask them what international standards they adhere to and choose one that can prove they follow a recognised standard (i.e. NFPA).
If you opt for additional training for Confined Space Rescue then ensure that:
- You select able bodied (strong) people to take on this role.
- They are trained to ITRA or IRATA standards. It’s very good training and well worth it.
- They get some high angle rope training for rescue at heights.
- They get some advanced medic training.
- They are trained to use a self-contained breathing apparatus equipment (SCBA).
- They learn how to prepare good quality rescue plans.
- Your site has the correct equipment on hand to affect rescue (rope sets, confined space basket/litter, SCBA, tripod etc.)
- The training company is training to an established international standard.
If you wish to know more about the Thai OSH Act and any penalties that may apply for non-compliance, then please see this article here.