Confined Spaces

Protect Workers in Confined Spaces

In many workplaces, there are spaces that are referred to as “confined” because they restrict the movements of employees who must work in them. Process vessels are one example, generally requiring workers to negotiate narrow openings and to carry out their duties while cramped or awkwardly positioned. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) calls such areas “confined spaces.” Unsafe entry into confined spaces is the leading cause for thousands of fatalities among workers that enter into confined spaces without advance warning, permission, and adequate training.

Confined spaces can be divided into general categories—open-topped spaces, deep areas that impede the natural movement of air, and enclosed sections with very tight openings for entry. Workers usually have to go inside such spaces to carry out necessary tasks—such as inspection, repair, maintenance, etc. In general, such functions have to be performed occasionally. One final—and extremely important—reason for entry is emergency rescue.
Employees who have to work inside confined spaces are often under increased risk of exposure to severe hazards. In some instances, workers face entrapment hazards due to being confined, while in other cases, they must deal with hazards such as moving machinery parts and suffocating atmospheres. OSHA refers to spaces that are considered confined and that present health or safety hazards as “permit-required confined spaces.”
“When untrained workers enter confined spaces with unsafe atmospheric conditions they can easily become captive victims.  The OSHA standard: 29CFR 1910.146 is clear and definitive. Workers must be trained to test the air to ensure it is safe before each and every time they enter a confined space.”

Testing the Air

Even before going inside a confined space, workers must measure the oxygen content of its air. To meet standards, oxygen must fall between 19.5 and 23.5%. Testing for oxygen content must be done prior to measuring for flammability because heavy mixtures of flammable gases or vapors could give misleading results. For example, a mixture of 90% methane and 10% air will register as nonflammable because there is inadequate oxygen to permit combustion to occur. However, ventilating the space will soon trigger an explosion. Keep in mind that prior to entry, ventilation must be provided until both oxygen content and flammability reach suitable levels.
Moreover, tests for toxic contaminants must be performed, and they must be capable of spotting the target toxin. Confer with the instrument manufacturer for any modifications. Awareness of the history of the confined space is crucial so the appropriate tests can be conducted. Identifying all potential contaminants in a confined space is an important element of hazard assessment.

Fall-Protection Equipment

Chest-waist harness type equipment is recommended for fall protection in confined spaces. When this type of harness halts a worker's fall, it prevents uncontrolled movements and thus lessens the incidence of injury. Additionally, it's easier to retrieve from a confined space than a waist belt. Adjustable lanyards should be utilized to restrict free fall to two feet before the fall is stopped.

Among other equipment necessary for worker safety are respirators, lockout/tag-out devices and safety barriers. An industrial hygienist should review potential hazards in the confined space before selecting respirators. Meanwhile, lockout/tag-out devices are important so workers can operate de-energized equipment without being afraid that it will be inadvertently recharged. Third, safety barriers are recommended because they shield workers from hazards that cannot reasonably be removed by other engineering controls.

Emergency Response Equipment

When “hot work” is performed inside a confined space, an approved fire extinguisher should be made readily available. Additionally, a person trained to use it should be positioned in the confined space or in a nearby area where he or she could quickly contain any fire that might occur.

Additionally, equipment that may be needed for first-response treatment—including blankets, first-aid kit, Stokes stretchers, etc.—should be placed just outside the confined area. After reviewing all possible hazards in the confined space, medical and safety professionals should indicate which equipment should be made accessible.
Retrieval equipment—including anchorage, a hoisting device, harnesses, wristlets, ropes and any other equipment that may be necessary to perform a rescue—should be listed in the confined space safe-entry procedures. Ensure that this equipment is on hand for immediate use. Entrants should wear harnesses and retrieval ropes unless these devices exacerbate hazards faced by workers or hamper their rescue.
Entry into a confined space should be carefully planned and preceded by a comprehensive evaluation of all possible hazards. The standby person and all rescue personnel should familiarize themselves with the structural design of the confined space, emergency exit procedures and mandatory life support systems.

Contact Professional Safety Training Services (PSTS), Inc. to have your personnel trained in safe entry into confined spaces. They will also learn how to rescue someone that may be trapped or suffered an injury while working inside a confined space. PSTS, Inc. Instructors specialize in Confined space entry training and will travel to your facility to conduct realistic hands-on training. PSTS, Inc. also provides CPR, AED and First-Aid Training, which is also required by the OSHA 29 CFR 1910.146 Standard.


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