A Closer Look at Fall Protection: Confined Spaces

Posted by Empire Safety on May 3, 2017 10:00:00 AM


Confined spaces aren't usually the first thought a safety manager thinks of when it comes to fall protection. Unfortunately, this is an overlooked danger that can affect every member of your crew. Here's a closer look at the importance of confined space training and how it relates to fall protection:

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When it comes to hazards on a job site, confined spaces are a big concern. When you mix in additional risks like fall hazards, you end up with a monumental danger zone. Confined spaces can include tanks, crawl ways, vessels, storage bins, hoppers, manholes, tunnels, pipelines and ductwork. 

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Here are some elements that define a confined space:

  • Not meant for long term human occupancy
  • Has limited entry or egress
  • Often contains hazardous elements.

Confined spaces could also be termed “HazMat in a Box” due to the potential for hazardous gases, fumes and vapors to be found within. These areas exist in almost every industry, so the likelihood that a worker will come into contact with one is substantial.

What are some of the unexpected hazards of working in a confined space?

  • Inadequate ventilation
  • Limited visibility
  • Falling objects
  • Sudden release of vapors, liquids or solids
  • Fire

A huge concern is when a worker is hurt, or otherwise in need of assistance. When a confined space accident occurs, the attempted rescuers often become victims themselves. In fact, one study found that more than 40% of confined space rescue fatalities involved would-be rescuers! By having the right personal protective equipment and effective rescue plans in place, these fatalities may have been preventable!

One way to address these risks is by having fall protection and rescue devices in place for work in these areas. Do you know where to start?

First, you need to identify if a work area is a permit-required confined space. Does it have one or more of the following?

  1. Hazardous atmosphere?
  2. Engulfment hazard such as grain?
  3. Could worker be trapped or asphyxiated?
  4. Serious safety or health hazard such as a fall hazard?

 So, what does this mean for fall protection? OSHA 1910.146 briefly touches on fall protection requirement in confined spaces and states:


Each authorized entrant shall use a chest or full body harness, with a retrieval line attached at the center of the entrant's back near shoulder level, above the entrant's head, or at another point which the employer can establish presents a profile small enough for the successful removal of the entrant. Wristlets may be used in lieu of the chest or full body harness if the employer can demonstrate that the use of a chest or full body harness is infeasible or creates a greater hazard and that the use of wristlets is the safest and most effective alternative.

Regardless if OSHA addresses the risk or not, the reality is that certain measures must be taken when working in these dangerous situations.

Here is a breakdown of some of the types of fall protection you can use to ensure your workers are safe and tragedy is prevented:

Anchorage Connectors: First off, make sure you have the right anchor for the job. Anchorage connectors also must be chosen based on the type of work being done, where they need to connect and what they need to connect to. Choosing the wrong anchor and anchorage connector can put workers at risk of serious and death

Body Wear: Full body harness that connects worker to anchor and has the ability to distribute fall force through shoulders, thighs and pelvic region to reduce the risk of orthostatic intolerance.

Self-Retracting Lifelines: Thought to be the safest and most effective part of a fall protection system. Combined with a retrieval system, this device allows non-entry rescue which also reduces the risk of injury or fatalities in other workers

Portable Fall Arrest Post: This post has the Davit Arm option which expands the functions of your existing anchor. Can be used for many tasks such as confined space entry and work support from the top of a work platform

Confined Space Rescue Equipment: For emergency evacuation only, this lightweight hoist system combines the reliability of a self-retracting lifeline with a quick acting retrieval mechanism

Here are some tips on working safely in confined spaces:

  1. Guard the entrance to prevent accidental falls
  2. All workers in the vicinity of a confined space need to wear fall protection gear, not just the worker entering the area.
  3. Use ladders or Davit arm posts that have a winching mechanism
  4. Employ backup fall protection, for example using a PFAS made up of harness, self-retracting lifeline and davit arm.
  5. Train and retrain workers (at least every 12 months)
  6. Evaluate ability of designated rescue worker
  7. Use non-entry retrieval when possible

 When it comes to fall hazards and keeping your workers safe, there are certain steps that must be done every time. Assess the risks, provide the right PPE and have a rescue plan in place to make sure every worker goes home safe. Make sure you provide fall protection and confined space training annually and stress the importance of evaluating the many risks that are present on any given construction site. The risks that are overlooked are often the ones that can have fatal results.


Topics: Fall Protection, confined spaces