Many different companies work in or around confined spaces and unfortunately, a lot of them do not have a real plan in place for this type of work. There are many types of confined spaces; tanks, silos, pits, tunnels, pipes, boilers are just a few examples. No matter what the type, confined spaces have something in common. They have limited ways to get in and out, and the atmosphere within them could be dangerous.
For a work area to be a confined space, it must contain these three things: limited openings for entry and exit, is large enough to allow a worker to enter, and is not designed for continuous worker occupancy. The characteristics of a confined space presents unique hazards. Yesterday’s miners knew some of the dangers of a confined space. Have you ever heard about the canary that died? Miners took a bird into the mine, and when the bird died, the miners knew the atmosphere was getting dangerous. and it was time to exit the mine. Today we have more sophisticated ways of testing the atmosphere within a confined space, but the principle is the same, we must always check the environment to make sure it’s safe to work in the confined space.
Confined spaces present many dangers, here are a few of the common ones:
· lack of oxygen.
· fire or explosion hazards from an accumulation of flammable vapors.
· health hazards from toxic vapors.
· difficulty exiting the space in the event of an emergency.
· cramped spaces to work in, resulting in a danger of being caught in equipment.
· poor visibility.
· high levels of noise.
· temperature extremes.
Regulatory agencies require workplaces to have a plan for working in confined spaces safely. If you work in a confined space, you should know your company’s procedures for safely entering, exiting, and working in the space. Confined spaces should be identified and classified, and safe entry procedures developed. Some confined spaces are called “permit-required confined spaces,” meaning a permit is required for entry into the confined space.
In addition to the normal characteristics of a confined space, “permit-required” confined spaces present one or more of these hazards:
· has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere.
· could contain material capable of engulfing someone entering the space.
· has an internal configuration such that a person could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor, which slopes downward and tapers off to a smaller cross section.
· contains any other recognized serious hazard.
In general, these are the things you should be aware of before you enter a confined space:
· understand how to enter a space safely.
· understand how to exit quickly.
· confirm the atmosphere in the space is tested and found to be free of dangerous levels of toxic or flammable vapors, and that there is sufficient oxygen.
· know that the atmosphere within the space is going to remain safe while you are working.
· understand the rescue plan in the event of an emergency, and make sure the proper rescue equipment is available and in working condition.
· verify that another person outside the confined space is monitoring you as you work, and that they know the rescue plan as well.
· be familiar with other procedures necessary to work safely, such as locking out energy sources.
Another very important thing to remember is what to do if someone working in a confined space becomes ill or injured. In the event of such an emergency, you should never enter a confined space to rescue someone without the proper equipment, training, and atmospheric testing. Chances are, whatever caused the illness or injury will claim you as a victim too.
It is possible to work safely in a confined space, but it requires careful planning and preparation. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts when it comes to confined spaces. Follow all safety precautions and don’t hesitate to speak up if you are unsure of the correct procedures. You play the most important role of all when it comes to working safely.