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The Skinny on Confined Spaces

Julie Copeland

Posted by
CEO

Today’s blog is on an often overlooked area of safety concern – Confined Spaces.Recognize the spaces and hazards for confined spaces, and keep your workers safe!

As you can image, there are many workplaces that are considered "confined spaces" because while they may not provide the comforts of a larger area, they are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs.

A confined space also has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy. Confined spaces include places such as manholes, pipelines, tunnels, tanks, ducts and more.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) uses the term "permit-required confined space" (permit space) to describe a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics: contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere; contains a material that has the potential to engulf an entrant; has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant; or contains any other recognized safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress.

Our safety professionals often see firsthand many workplace spaces that are considered to be “confined” because they hinder the activities of employees who must enter into, work in or exit from them. Our experts often note that many employees who work in confined spaces also face increased risk of exposure to serious physical injury from hazards such as entrapment, engulfment and hazardous atmospheric conditions.

OSHA has documented that confinement itself may pose entrapment hazards and work in confined spaces may keep employees closer to hazards such as machinery components than they would be otherwise. For example, confinement, limited access and restricted airflow can result in hazardous conditions that would not normally arise in an open workplace.

OSHA’s standard for confined spaces (29 CFR 1910.146) contains the requirements for practices and procedures to protect employ-ees in general industry from the hazards of entering permit spaces.

Employers must evaluate their workplaces to determine if spaces are permit spaces. If a workplace contains permit spaces, the employer must inform exposed employees that they exist, where they exist, and hazards they pose. One way to communicate this is with signage such as “DANGER—PERMIT-REQUIRED CONFINED SPACE—AUTHORIZED ENTRANTS ONLY” or something very similar.

Employers must take effective measures to prevent their workers from entering these spaces. If employees are expected to enter permit spaces, the employer must develop a written permit space program and make it available to employees or their representatives.

In fact, any employer who allows employee entry into a permit space must develop and implement a written program for the space. Among other things, the OSHA standard requires the employer’s written program to:

■ Implement necessary measures to prevent unauthorized entry;

■ Identify and evaluate permit space hazards before allowing employee entry;

■ Test atmospheric conditions in the permit space before entry operations and monitor the space during entry;

■ Perform appropriate testing for the following atmospheric hazards in this sequence: oxygen, combustible gases or vapors, and toxic gases or vapors;

■ Establish and implement the means, procedures and practices to eliminate or control hazards necessary for safe permit space entry operations;

■ Identify employee job duties;

■ Provide and maintain, at no cost to the employee, personal protective equipment and any other equipment necessary for safe entry and require employees to use it;

■ Ensure that at least one attendant is stationed outside the permit space for the duration of entry operations;

■ Coordinate entry operations when employees of more than one employer are working in the permit space;

■ Implement appropriate procedures for summoning rescue and emergency services and preventing unauthorized personnel from attempting rescue;

■ Establish in writing, and implement a system for the preparation, issue, use and cancellation of entry permits;

■ Review established entry operations annually and revise the permit space entry program as necessary; and

■ Implement the procedures that any attendant who is required to monitor multiple spaces will follow during an emergency in one or more of those spaces.

 Controlling Hazards

OSHA further stipulates that the employer’s written program should establish the means, procedures and practices to eliminate or control hazards necessary for safe permit space entry operations. This includes specifying acceptable entry conditions, isolating the permit space, providing barriers, verifying acceptable entry conditions, and purging, making inert, flushing or ventilating the permit space.

In addition to personal protective equipment, other equipment that employees may require for safe entry into a permit space includes: testing, monitoring, ventilating, communications and lighting equipment, barriers and shields, ladders, and retrieval devices.

Detection of Hazardous Conditions

If hazardous conditions are detected during entry, employees must immediately leave the space. The employer must evaluate the space to determine the cause of the hazardous atmosphere and modify the program as necessary.

When workers are prohibited from entering permit space, the employer must take effective measures to prevent unauthorized entry. Non-permit confined spaces must be evaluated when changes occur in their use or configuration and, where appropriate, must be reclassified as permit spaces.

It’s important to note that a space with no potential to have atmospheric hazards may be classified as a non-permit confined space only when ALL hazards are eliminated in accordance with the standard. If entry is required to eliminate hazards and obtain data, the employer must follow specific procedures in the standard.

Arbill offers Confined Space training that is designed to teach the worker to recognize the spaces and hazards, recognize the health effects of exposure, proper selection and use of PPE, and the duties and responsibilities for the confined space entrants. Arbill also offers Confined Space Rescue Training for any individuals who during the course of their employment is expected to make rescues from confined spaces. A combination of drills and classes will take place to teach the proper response to chemical emergencies or other confined space issues by personnel expected to make rescues.

At Arbill your employee health and safety is important to us.  Visit Arbill.com or contact your Arbill representative to find out how we can help keep your employees safe and help you build a culture of safety within your organization. 

Have a safe day!

Topics: Confined Spaces

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