Confined Spaces in China

by Enhesa 25 Mar. 2019

Our EHS Regulatory Analysts and Thought Leadership team are teaming up to discuss topics permeating specific Enhesa jurisdictions. This is the first installment of the regular insight.    

Amongst the regulatory protection to improve work safety, workers operating in confined spaces are closely supervised. Work in confined spaces in China is regulated at the national level under different Regulations, Rules and Standards. The Provisional Regulation on Safety Management and Supervision on Confined Spaces at Industry and Commercial Trading Companies set forth the safety requirements for operating in all types of confined spaces. The mandatory requirements focus on establishing safety and management systems; providing safety training for workers operating in confined spaces and record-keeping of the operations and corresponding safety management. For specific types of businesses or operations, additional regulatory requirements may apply. For instance, chemical manufacturing and painting, especially involving hazardous or toxic chemical substances, requires additional safety precautions and more stringent safety standards may apply. It is recommended that companies concerned about confined spaces compliance look beyond the national regulations and refer to the industrial-specific standards on operating in confined spaces—both mandatory and voluntary standards.

Specific Industries and Commercial Trading Companies

The Provisional Regulation on Safety Management and Supervision on Confined Spaces at Industry and Commercial Trading Companies (工贸企业有限空间作业安全管理与监督暂行规定) of May 20, 2013 provides comprehensive requirements for confined space operations for certain specified industries[1] and “commercial and trading companies.”[2] (商贸企业).

Under the Provisional Regulation, concerned companies must establish safe operating systems and safe operating rules.

Safe operating systems must include the following:

  • A safe responsibility system
  • An operation approval system
  • An onsite safety management system
  • A safety training system covering training for onsite responsible personnel, supervising personnel, operators and emergency rescue personnel

Confined spaces training must cover the following aspects:

  • Hazards that exist in confined spaces together with related prevention requirements
  • Safe operating rules
  • Use and maintenance of testing equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Emergency response measures under emergency situations

A training record must be kept and signed by attendees[3].

In addition, concerned companies must:

  • Identify the number of confined spaces onsite, their locations and the hazard factors of each
  • Establish a confined space ledger and keep it up-to-date
  • Conduct testing prior to starting operations in a confined space, identify the hazards, propose measures to eliminate and control such hazards, adopt a working plan for the operation, have the plan reviewed by the site safety manager and have the plan approved by the site’s major responsible person
  • Follow the steps of ventilation, testing and then operation for each confined space operation
  • The testing personnel must record the testing time, location, type of gas concerned and its concentration: The parameters to be tested must include oxygen concentration, concentration of flammable and explosive substances (including combustible gas and explosive dust) and concentration of toxic or hazardous gas
  • Testing must follow “relevant standards,” although these are not further specified
  • Confined space entry can only be allowed after ventilation and testing
  • Testing must be conducted no more than 30 minutes before the operation—if the operation is expected to last for more than 30 minutes, testing and ventilation has to be repeated
  • Take effective measures to separate confined spaces, pipes or space that could endanger operations in a confined space
  • Before and during operations in a confined space, the facility must ensure continuous ventilation, but not with pure oxygen
  • If the concerned company contracts contractors to conduct operations in confined spaces, the company must contract a qualified contractor (not further defined) to do so
  • The company must sign an agreement with the contractor specifying each party's safety responsibilities
  • If there is more than one contractor, the facility must coordinate and manage the overall work safety by conducting periodic inspections of the safety conditions of these contractors and ensure corrective measures are taken by the contractors for identified safety hazards

In addition to the requirements above, the Provisional Regulation of May 20, 2013 also requires the following:

  • The entry and exit of the confined space must be kept clear
  • Warning signs and warnings must be displayed in a noticeable place
  • Operators must be able to communicate with the people outside in a reliable way
  • Supervision personnel must not leave the operation site and must maintain communication with the operator

Separate Standard for Chemicals Manufacturers

There is a separate specific standard on work in confined spaces which applies to chemical manufacturers: The Standard of Safety Code for Operation at Confined Spaces in Chemical Manufacturing Facilities (化学品生产单位受限空间作业安全规范 AQ 3028 - 2008)[4].

The main requirements in the Standard are as follows:

  • Before conducting work in a confined space, the operator must have received a Confined Space Operating Permit (受限空间安全作业证) issued by the employer[5]
  • The confined space must be properly isolated
  • If the confined space contains electrical equipment, the facility must implement controls (lock-out/tag-out) and cut off power to the electrical equipment
  • Before conducting work in a confined space, the facility must remove any materials to ensure the hazard elements meet the Standards on the Occupational Exposure Limits for Hazardous Agents in the Workplace - Chemical Hazardous Agents (GBZ 2.1 -2007).
  • The facility must also ensure the oxygen content of the air in the confined space is between 18 and 21 percent, and no more than 23.5 percent in an oxygen-rich environment
  • The facility must also comply with ventilation, monitoring and supervision requirements as well as requirements on PPE and warning signs, for example:
  • When entering and performing work with equipment in confined spaces with highly toxic substances, the facility must take the following measures in advance:
  • Keep workplaces well ventilated and ensure that the concentration of hazard factors for occupational poisoning in the workplaces meet the national occupational health standards
  • Provide workers with PPE that meets the national occupational health standards
  • Assign supervisory personnel and place first-aid kits in the space

Work in “Oxygen Deficient Spaces”

Safety Rules for Operations in Oxygen Deficient Spaces (GB 8958-2006: 缺氧危险作业安全规程) requires that when carrying out any “oxygen deficient work,” facilities must carry out an assessment of the levels and maintain records of the assessment. Depending on the results of the assessment, the facility must take appropriate measures. It is strictly prohibited to enter the workplaces before the assessment of air concentration levels.

Technical Requirements for Painting Safety in Confined Spaces

The Safety Rules for Painting Safety Technical Requirements for Working in Confined Spaces (GB 12942-2006: 涂装作业安全规程-有限空间作业安全技术要求) provide general safety requirements for conducting painting and hot work in confined spaces. Under these rules, an entry permit is required for entering confined spaces and for carrying out painting or hot work in confined spaces.

A confined space is defined as “a space that only one or two people are able to enter, e.g. a closed, narrow or poorly ventilated area with limited means of entry and exit with a depth of 1.2 m or deeper.”

Under the rules, ventilation, PPE, insulation, grounding and explosion-proof lights and lighting wire arrangements and safety equipment must be appropriate and sufficient. Emergency exits must also be provided from the confined spaces.

The Safety Rules provide that an “ignition permit” is required prior to any hot works in confined spaces and a rotation and a buddy system must be put in place. The safety management department of the facility will provide the ignition permit. When entering and exiting confined spaces, any materials brought with workers into the confined spaces must be checked. The entry and exit time and operations of workers in confined spaces must be recorded for every shift. Upon completion of work in confined spaces, the confined spaces must be shut down only after it has been verified that no spark, kindling substance or any foreign object is left in the confined space.

Inspections of Workplace Safety Conditions in Confined Spaces

The Circular on Conducting Inspections of Workplace Safety Conditions in Confined Spaces (关于开展工贸企业有限空间作业条件确认工作的通知) was issued in response to the 67 major safety accidents that occurred in confined spaces, causing 269 deaths between 2010 and 2013.

Investigations into these accidents revealed that the majority could be attributed to the lack of safe operating procedures and approval systems for entering confined spaces. Other common causes of these accidents included defects in conducting safety training for employees and providing PPE. Therefore, the State Administration of Work Safety issued the Circular to address these safety hazards. Specifically, the following requirements have been reiterated for facilities conducting operations in confined spaces:

The facility must:

  • Establish an approval system for these operations
  • Review the workplace safety conditions of the contractors and provide them with all technical information necessary for them to carry out operations in a confined space safely
  • Develop an emergency response plan and conduct drills of the plan at least once a year
  • Identify all hazard factors in the confined space and communicate this information to the operators. Precautionary measures and emergency response measures must also be communicated to operators conducting confined space operations
  • Provide respiratory apparatus, communication devices, and other protective and emergency response equipment to employees conducting confined space operations

[1] Specifically: metallurgy; non-ferrous metal; construction materials manufacturing; machinery manufacturing; light industry (e.g. chemical raw material manufacturing, food manufacturing, and paper products manufacturing); textile manufacturing; and tobacco

[2] These are not further defined

[3] The Provisional Regulation does not specify for how long this record must be kept.

[4] Only Chapter 4 to this Standard is compulsory

[5] Annex A to the Standard provides the format of the Permit