Confined spaces are nothing to play around with. You need to know the risks and you need to know how to avoid them. When you think of confined spaces you probably think of the most common examples such as tunnels, manholes, boilers or pipelines. Unfortunately, a good many others are overlooked and when mistakes are made in these scenarios they are often deadly. About 90 workers die every year due to confined spaces accidents and most of these fatalities could have been avoided.
Let’s first tackle the definition of confined spaces and what that means to you
According to OSHA, a confined space is one that has a limited or restricted means of entry or exit and isn’t designed for human occupancy, but it’s large enough for a person to enter and perform a task. Although workers are able to perform tasks in these areas, they are not designed for continuous occupancy. Make sure you know the standard inside and out.
Risks involved in confined spaces:
- Combustible gas risks
- Toxic gases
- Oxygen that is too low or too high
When a victim is overcome by gas, their ability to think clearly and act sensibly decreases quickly. This is why when rescuers go in after a fallen victim, they often become a victim themselves. In fact, it’s estimated that just about 40% of fatalities include attempted rescuers who did not take the proper precautions. When the job involves situations that people must make quick decisions, you better make sure they know what they’re dealing with. You don’t get a do-over when emergency strikes. So make sure you have a confined space rescue training program in place.
So what does this mean to employers?
- A competent person must evaluate and identify hazards in a any confined space, especially those that are permit required
- Employer must be aware that certain harmful contaminants may not be apparent until the worker is at ground level, so exercise caution at all times
- A clear and concise communication plan must exist if there are multiple employers on a site
- Continuous monitoring of oxygen and gases is required, whenever possible
- If there is an engulfment hazard (like grain), there must be continuous monitoring with early warnings
- There must be an emergency system in place in the event that non-entry rescue fails
- Permits can be cancelled by entry supervisors when entry operations have been completed or conditions change
Confined Space Entry Permit is required when any of the following occur:
- Substance that has the ability to engulf or asphyxiate the worker
- Potentially hazardous atmosphere
- Inwardly converging walls within the space or a floor that slopes downward, tapering to a small section
- Any other serious safety or health hazard
Here are just a few ways to make confined space work safer:
Detect and Measure: Durable and rugged, this detector has a glow in the dark housing that makes it easy to be seen in a confined space and is also capable of detecting up to 6 gases at once
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
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
Signage: Signs are always necessary when dealing with hazards. Providing clear communication of the potential, type and degree of certain hazards will decrease injury risks and chances of property damage
California’s Confined Space Special Emphasis Initiative
This initiative focuses on reducing worker death and injuries due to working in confined spaces. In 2011, California reported 7 confined space fatalities and one death and two injuries resulting from attempted rescues. These numbers alone indicate that there is a need for ongoing support and education in confined space entry training.
By focusing on helping employers accurately identify confined spaces and providing additional guidelines, employers know that if they don’t play by the rules they will be getting a visit from Cal/OSHA.
All too often, confined space knowledge is either all or nothing. And that’s when tragedy strikes. Make sure you and your workers understand the unique dangers that are present in confined space applications. By following very specific safety precautions which include ongoing worker training, establishing a working PPE program, continuously monitoring the hazards and employing regular confined space rescue training, you can minimize the dangers to your workers. Saving lives begins with taking hazards seriously and planning for the worst.