A roadmap to understanding confined space entry, common hazards, safety equipment and solutions.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 1,000 workers were killed due to injuries involving a confined space from 2011-2018. The unfortunate reality is that most – if not all – of these types of tragedies are preventable.
“We commonly see accidents that result from a lack of understanding of the hazards associated with working in confined space,” said Mike Kay (pictured), Director for Resource Safety Services, a Safety Products Inc company.
“A lack of a written policy and procedure, including a rescue program, and a lack of proper training and education are the leading reasons for injuries and deaths in confined space shown year after year.”
OSHA defines that a work area must meet all 3 of the following criteria to be considered a confined space:
1. Large enough that an employee can enter and perform assigned work.
2. Has a limited or restricted means for entry or exit.
3. Is not intended, or designed, for continuous employee occupancy.
An OSHA defined confined space with 1 or more of the following characteristics will require a permit entry:
• Contains, or has a potential to contain, a hazardous atmosphere.
• Contains a material that has the potential of engulfing an occupied entrant.
• Contains any other serious safety or health hazard.
• Has an internal configuration that an entrant could be trapped, or asphyxiated, by inwardly converging walls or by a floor which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section.
A confined space is likely to contain a number of hazards that range from atmospheric to physical.
Commonly a confined space atmosphere is oxygen-deficient, toxic or combustible and should be tested prior to entry and continually monitored.
In addition to PPE and gas monitoring, the entrance of a confined space will determine other equipment.
If a vertical entrance is required, equipment must be provided to ensure safe access, such as a tripod or davit system.
Employees may need to be rescued or evacuated due to potential emergency in a confined space.
An employer must have a plan in place to respond to emergencies with rescue or retrieval of confined space entrants.
There are common issues related with the use of safety equipment. Companies use either the wrong equipment, use equipment inappropriately, use damaged equipment, or equipment that has exceeded its useful life, or simply don’t use safety equipment at all.
Below are key categories of confined space equipment:
RESCUE & RETRIEVAL
A rescue and retrieval system to be present and will commonly include a tripod or davit system for lowering/lifting workers, a winch, and a three-way self-retracting lifeline (SRL).
Readings need to be taken before a worker “breaks the plane” of the permit-required confined space, and the atmosphere continually monitored while personnel are in the area.
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