Column Personnel Safety Training

Elevate Safety In Confined Spaces

EP Editorial Staff | July 1, 2021

When workspace is tight, air quality and extraction procedures become critical.

By Ryan Dobbins, CSP, CHST, CIT, CUSP

The primary obligation of any industry leader is to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for employees, contractors, and/or service providers who are conducting on-site work. When that work is done in confined or enclosed spaces, hazard recognition becomes more challenging because, by nature, confined spaces generally are not designed for human occupancy. In these situations, it’s essential to correctly identify the space, understand specific hazards, and prepare for safe operation or extraction.

Understanding the varying requirements of confined-space activity can be difficult, but it’s important to stick to the basics so you can consistently approach and plan for safe operation.

First, properly identify the confined space. According to OSHA, a confined space is one that is large enough and so configured that an employee can enter and perform assigned work, has limited or restricted means for entry or exit, and is not designed for continuous occupancy. If a space meets all three of those items, you can move on to identify whether the space requires a permit to complete operations.

A permit-required confined space is one that has one or more of these characteristics:

• contains a hazardous atmosphere

• contains a material that has the potential to engulf a worker

• has an internal configuration that could trap or asphyxiate a worker

• contains any other serious recognized hazard such as falls or moving parts.

Hazardous atmospheres are among the most significant and deadly hazards we face with confined-space work. Before allowing any work activity, employers must ensure that the atmosphere is tested prior to entry and continuously tested throughout activities. Having the proper equipment is essential. Your testing equipment should be able to measure oxygen levels and detect combustible and toxic gases and vapors. If any levels are outside of normal or safe ranges, you must eliminate those hazards using engineering, administrative, or proper personal-protective equipment.

Since confined-space activity creates challenging work and often poses a high level of risk, it’s imperative that you plan ahead for extreme situations.

The industry has learned from countless events involving confined-space work and multiple victims. When one employee is exposed to a hazardous or toxic environment and requires rescue or extraction, generally a second or even third employee experiences the same fate, if not properly prepared. Using proper anchor points, body harnesses, lanyards, and a winch device can help a confined-space team plan for non-entry rescues to extract an injured or ill employee without exposing another to the hazard.

The following steps can provide a consistent and effective approach for safe and successful confined-space operations:

• Train all workers on confined-space recognition, entry, and rescue procedures prior to their first assignment.

• Identify all confined spaces and address the hazards associated with each space.

• Create an entry permit to accurately document the activities, procedures, hazards, and workers involved.

• Use appropriate tools and instruments to monitor the atmosphere and detect hazardous conditions.

• Establish effective communication techniques between entrants, attendants, and entry supervisors.

• Use ventilation and other engineering controls to eliminate or mitigate hazardous environments.

• Establish and use lockout/tagout techniques to control hazardous energy sources within the space. EP

Ryan Dobbins is a Safety Services Manager at Safety Management Group, Columbus, OH (safetymanagementgroup.com). He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Construction Health & Safety Technician (CHST), Certified Instructional Trainer (CIT), and Certified Utility Safety Professional (CUSP). Contact him at RyanDobbins@safetymanagementgroup.com.

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