Let’s get serious about confined space safety. Confined spaces can be seriously dangerous and are the leading cause of multiple fatalities in the workplace. Here’s why…
A confined space has limited openings for entry or exit, is large enough for entering and working, but is not designed for continuous worker occupancy. Examples: vaults, tanks, bins, manholes, pits, silos, pipelines.
High oxygen levels in a confined space increase the risk of fire and explosion. Materials that would not normally catch fire or burn in normal air may do so extremely quickly and easily.
Low oxygen levels can lead to unconsciousness and death.
At certain concentrations some substances become immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH). Even brief exposure to these substances can cause death or permanent damage to vital organs.
In addition to oxygen enriched atmospheres, other causes for explosive atmospheres include:
- Ignition of gases and vapors.
- Combustible dust – i.e. coal and grain dusts.
- Chemical reactions
- Substances used in the space – i.e. welding gases, methane, hydrogen, solvents.
Physical hazards cover a wide range of hazards common to confined spaces.
- Slips, trips, falls
- Hazardous energy
To help prevent confined space injuries and fatalities employers must have a written confined space entry program. Part of the program includes identifying confined spaces (non-permit and permit-required) on site. Employers must inform exposed employees of the existence, location, and hazards of all permit-required spaces. It is your responsibility to help your employer carry these out these responsibilities.
Be a Better Supervisor
Assessment and Entry Permit
A hazard assessment and an entry permit are required for every permit-required confined space entry. A confined space entry program must:
- Designate an entry supervisor be provided for each permit space entry.
- List entry supervisor qualifications; and
- Describe the entry supervisor’s duties.
Entry into the space cannot occur until the permit is completed and approval to enter is given. Click here for a list of what information the entry permit is required to have.
Implement Hazard Controls
All confined spaces should be tested for atmospheric hazards prior to entry and in many cases, testing is required throughout the duration of the work. Testing must be done by a trained user and all testing equipment must be in good condition, properly calibrated, and warning alarms set to the right levels.
Elimination of the substance is the best way to remove the risk – but if that isn’t possible other control measure must be used.
Protect against physical hazards by using:
- Fall protection, Respirators/supplied air
- LOTO, Piping isolation
- Hearing protection
- Pumps to remove water
- Non-sparking tools
Communication and Emergency Response
The ability for confined space entrants, attendants, and supervisors to communicate is critical, required, and in some cases, lifesaving.
The preferred method of rescue is to use retrieval systems that make it unnecessary to send in rescue personnel. If retrieval systems won’t be effective and you must rely on rescue personnel to enter the space, you must take steps to ensure rescue operations are as safe as possible.
- You must review entry procedures at least once a year and more frequently any time you have reason to believe it’s not providing entrants the necessary safety.
- You must reassess non-permit spaces and decide whether to reclassify them as permit spaces when there are changes to the configuration of the space or the work done inside it.
- You can also reclassify permit as non-permit spaces if you can demonstrate it no longer contains the actual or potential hazards that led you to classify it as a permit space.