A confined space can be one of the most hazardous areas in your workplace. As defined by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), a confined space is anywhere that is large enough for you to enter and work, has entry and exit restrictions, and is not meant for continuous occupancy. Workers should be alerted to these areas through training and the posting of confined space signage. There are two types of confined spaces: those that require permits and those that do not. Permit-required confined spaces may have hazardous atmospheric conditions, materials that could engulf those that enter, structures that slope or taper in and could trap someone, and other serious hazards. “Non-permit” spaces generally lack these life-threatening hazards, but precautions need to be taken before work in any type of space.
Monitors for testing the atmosphere are essential to detect colorless, and at times odorless, gases that may be present in a confined space. If potentially toxic gases are detected, ventilation systems and ducts can be used to provide adequate levels of breathable air.
Safety harnesses and lifelines are also important pieces of personal protection equipment that workers should use when entering confined spaces. Depending on the situation, pockets of harmful gas may still exist, or footing could become unstable in the area. With the help of spotters and other attendants, falls due to the space or asphyxiation can be prevented if the workers are properly harnessed.
Lockout procedures are necessary in many confined space settings. With such a small space to work in, the disconnection of power to the area is vital. If a machine turned on, the atmospheric pressure or gases could change, or the space itself could be altered by moving parts or rotating augers. Lockout procedures ensure that the risk of electrical shock or accidental machine use will not occur. The lockout plan that workers follow is just as important as the precautions taken for entering the confined space.
By following a comprehensive safety plan, which includes necessary signage and personal protective equipment, workers can safely work in confined spaces and be prepared for unforeseen circumstances.