Confined spaces can be deadly. Workers must use extreme caution in these areas, otherwise gases, vapors, fumes, lack of oxygen, or moving material can overwhelm them. Adding to a tragedy, many fatalities occur when rescuers respond to an emergency without proper training for the conditions.
To keep workers safe, an employer must develop a detailed plan for each confined space, train employees on the plan, and implement immediate emergency response procedures.
Examples of confined spaces may include:
- Water and sewer pipes
- Utility tunnels
- Pumping stations
- Storage bins
- Crawl spaces under floors
- Meter vaults
- Water reservoirs
- Holding tanks
- Grit chambers
All confined spaces in the workplace require evaluation and labeling for their unique features and configuration.
Permit required confined space: If additional hazards exist, workers may not enter without a permit. Such hazards include toxic or non-breathable air, the risk of the occupant being swamped or buried by movement of the stored materials, or have other serious safety and health hazards such as moving machinery.
Non-permit required confined space: If the additional hazards do not exist, workers may enter without a permit.
To prevent injuries and deaths, survey your worksite for all dangers and determine which areas require a permit. Develop a detailed checklist to analyze the layout, dimensions, entry/exit challenges, and atmospheric conditions.
Create a written plan and train your employees and contractors on how to implement that plan. Make sure to detail the following:
- Who enters confined spaces?
- How do employees and contractors enter and exit?
- Have proper permitting where required.
- What equipment workers need for each space?
- The work scheduled for each confined space.
- Have the proper equipment to test and monitor the atmosphere.
- Require attendant(s) outside each confined space to monitor the work, recognize an emergency, and activate a rescue if needed.
Develop a rescue procedure including the number of people required, the personal protective equipment (PPE), and rescue devices needed for each confined space. Rescue must be IMMEDIATELY available onsite during a confined space entry. DON’T rely only upon outside emergency responders for rescue; use a tested and trained rescue plan. Rescue delays can result in multiple deaths.
Train your employees, supervisors, and contractors on all of these procedures, hazard control, and rescue operations. Planning and training can prevent confined space tragedy.