Confined Space Hazards and Control Measures
Confined spaces are places which are partially or completely enclosed and pose potential dangers that can cause serious injuries or death from the available hazardous substances or other dangerous conditions like lack of enough oxygen.
Most of the injuries or deaths that occur in confined spaces are when workers are executing projects such as welding, flame cutting, working with hazardous chemicals, and painting. Various workplaces can also become confined during construction, fabrication and modification works.
According to OSHA permit-required confined space is one that has some of the following characteristics: contains a hazardous atmosphere, has the potential of engulfing an entrant, has floors sloping downwards, converging walls, has materials or limited space that can asphyxiate an entrant, and has safety hazards such as exposed wires, heat stress, and unguarded machinery.
Although workplaces that have confined spaces are not supposed to be accessed by workers some of them are large enough to allow people to enter. A confined space is not designed for continuous occupancy because it has limited or restricted entry and exit points.
Some of the common confined space hazards include the presence of poisonous fumes, lack of oxygen, explosions, fires, hot working environments, hazardous chemicals or solids filling a confined space or releasing gas when disturbed, residues that can give off dangerous fumes and dust.
It’s upon the employers to assign competent personnel, who are adequately trained, the responsibilities of managing the potential risks. The employer can hire services of competent persons or train staff who can manage the risks. Entering into a confined space blindly without identifying the potential risks is a life-threatening and irresponsible approach that is against the law.
Types of confined spaces
Some of the places that can be classified as confined spaces include silos, chambers, trenches, duct works, vats, tanks, sewers, poorly ventilated rooms, and pits among others. Workplaces can be confined due to lack of necessary equipment or applications as well. It’s the duty of job site managers or supervisors to ensure that their workers are working in spaces that are not confined to save money that can be lost through claims in case of personal injury accidents that can happen in such situations.
Unfortunately, most employers or job site managers overlook the safety of their employees by prioritizing production or in a bid to reduce the cost of production. Various regulations and Compliances require workers in various sectors to uphold the set entry measures into confined spaces to avoid potential risks.
Workers working in simple storage vessels and complex plants are the most affected by risks that pose potential dangers in confined spaces. People who try to rescue trapped workmates can also get injured in the process if they don’t have the right training and equipment of rescuing their colleagues. Trained personnel are supposed to be contacted immediately in case of confined space accidents, and proper entry procedures followed when rescuing injured workers.
Confined space entry procedures
There are various legal obligations that protect employees from being exposed to working in unsafe confined spaces and guidelines on how to protect those who have to work in those environments. Employers have a moral duty to protect the public and their employees who work in confined spaces. The safety legislations are meant to guide employers on the measures to be observed in protecting the workers working in the environments.
Some of the entry procedures into confined spaces include:
Identify problem spots
For employees to work in confined spaces, a risk assessment should be carried out to identify the potential risks and determine the necessary entry measures or precautions to be taken before they commence work.
5 Assessments include:
- The working conditions
- Type of tasks
- Materials and equipment to be used
- Preparations for emergency rescue
- Suitability of the workers undertaking the tasks
Assess risk level
Once a job site manager identifies the potential risks, it’s prudent to determine the degree of the potential risk that he or she is dealing with. Some of the factors that can lead a place to be declared as risky include the presence of weak structures, poor building construction, the presence of dangerous animals, concrete and metallic pieces sticking out walls or floors and presence of hazardous chemicals or potential fire risks.
It’s critical to conduct an assessment and evaluate the possibilities of the potential risks becoming a danger. If the manager concludes that the risk potential is too high, then he shouldn’t allow workers to enter the confined space. He should only allow employees to access the confined space or work in the confined space if the risk level is acceptable.
4 Activate control measures
Some of the appropriate control measures that one can adopt to minimize the risk level while working in confined spaces include:
- Working from the outside of the confined space
- Applying corrective measures to problem spots so as to reduce the risk level before entering the confined space
- Employing common sense and safe working practices that can help the employees avoid approaching the problem spots
- Using Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to protect the body from the potential dangers while working
Double check the available control measures
It’s important to double check whether the determined control measures are viable or in good working conditions. Protective clothing and safety measures should be tested to ensure they don’t have tears, breakages, and leaks that may aggravate the potential of endangering the employees. Faulty equipment and protective gear should be replaced or repaired and tested again before entering the confined space.
Plan for emergencies
Even after the safety measures and equipment have been put in place, it’s prudent to predict potential emergencies that may occur while employees are working in the confined spaces. Emergency measures should be adopted to remove endangered personnel from the problem spot in case of any unexpected accidents.
It’s crucial to put personnel outside to monitor the potential hazards and initiate rescue process immediately whenever emergency kicks in. They should have the necessary skills and equipment for pulling out the endangered workers to safety.