The Unexpected Dangers of Confined Spaces, and Confined Space Safety

As defined by OSHA, a confined space is any space at your facility that is large enough for a worker to enter, but has “limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.” These spaces include service pits, grease traps, crawl spaces, ductwork, storage bins, process vessels, manholes, tanks and pipelines.

Confined spaces can be extremely dangerous, which is why all facilities should make confined space safety a priority. In the U.S. alone, these spaces are responsible for approximately 5,000 serious injuries and 100 fatalities a year. About 40% of those fatalities are from asphyxiation (a lack of oxygen) and—shockingly—nearly 60% are suffered by rescue personnel.

Confined space hazards include:

  • Oxygen deficiency or enrichment
  • Combustible atmosphere (methane, gasoline, acetylene)
  • Toxic atmosphere (carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, VOCs)
  • Electrocution and electrical shock
  • Mechanical entrapment (getting crushed)
  • Engulfment (getting buried, flowing liquid, free flowing solids)
  • Excessive heat
  • Poor lighting (which can create hazards)
  • Slick or wet surfaces, and falling objects
  • Walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area, either of which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant
  • Any other recognized safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress

To ensure optimal and sufficient confined space safety, each space should be evaluated for its own individual, potential hazards.

The Need for Permits

Confined spaces where any of the above hazards may exist are labelled “Permit-Required Confined Spaces” (per OSHA 1910.146). An employer must identify all Permit-Required Confined Spaces with safety signs, or another means of easily seen communication, and there must be a written program developed that outlines and instructs the specific safety procedures for entering and working in the space.

The required “permit” is not a government-issued certificate, but instead refers to a written document drafted by the employer that is provided before any worker enters the confined space. The permit must include the purpose of the entry, the date and duration of the entry, the names of who will be entering the space and those on the outside who will be monitoring them, a list of the potential hazards, the required equipment and PPE for entering the confined space which emergency services must be summoned in case a rescue is required, and more.

Examples of Permit-Required Confined Space Hazards

Consider these real-life examples of confined space risk. Some of these examples may have taken place at your facility. A permit is required in each of these instances.

  • An employee needs to enter an autoclave that’s used to sterilize equipment and could be exposed to extensive heat
  • A large dust collector needs to be entered to change bags, which presents mechanical and fall hazards
  • A worker needs to enter the pit below a paint booth to retrieve a fallen tool, but could be exposed to hazardous fumes
  • A worker needs to access a drained wastewater sump pump which may have sewer gas or a lack of oxygen
  • A worker needs to replace a brick inside an industrial furnace which has hazardous levels of carbon monoxide

Training Requirements for Confined Space Safety

To ensure appropriate confined space safety, employees must receive thorough employer-provided training before entering a permit-required confined space. Per OSHA guidelines, they must be able to:

  • Review, understand and follow employer’s procedures before entering the confined space
  • Know how to safely enter the confined space and when to exit
  • Identify any physical hazards
  • Test and monitor for oxygen content, flammability, toxicity or explosive hazards
  • Be able to use employer’s fall protection, rescue, air-monitoring, ventilation, lighting and communication equipment according to entry procedures
  • Maintain contact at all times with a trained attendant either visually, via phone, or by two-way radio. This monitoring system enables the attendant and entry supervisor to order the employee to evacuate and to alert appropriately trained rescue personnel to rescue entrants when needed.

How GMG EnviroSafe Helps You Ensure Confined Space Safety

As the industry leader in workplace safety compliance, GMG EnviroSafe has effective programs in place to help you meet confined space safety requirements. We will assess your facility for confined spaces and hazards, label them, develop safe entry procedures, and train your staff on how to follow them. We also offer a wide variety of programs that can be critical to confined space safety, including lockout/tagout programs, fall prevention programs, safe electrical work practices programs, and hazard communication training in areas like heat stress.

Contact us to learn more.