Confined Space Hazards and Precautions

man working in confined space

Do you have confined spaces in your workplace or at your job site?

If so (and they may exist while being overlooked), it’s important to identify the risk potential for all such confined spaces on your premises, and to limit access to necessary personnel who have been properly trained.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at confined space safety and how they can affect your workplace safety.

Definition of a Confined Space

A confined space work environment is one with certain enclosed characteristics that can significantly increase the risk of accident.

Characteristics that are of most concern are:

  • the limits to safe movement
  • worker testing air & environment in confined spaceconstraints on breathing
  • exposure to chemicals or fumes

These risks may be found in various workplace locations to include: containers, trenches, and storage tanks.

This specific category of workplace environment requires a significant level of safety precaution.

The risks involved may require mandatory training and restrictions that limit access to only those fully trained in working in designated confined space environments.

Inherent Risks of Confined Spaces

The inherent dangers of working in a confined space environment include:

  • risks involved with lack of oxygen,
  • flooding of a tank or chamber
  • toxic fumes
  • any condition that can restrict safe operation due to the constrained nature of the confined workspace

Risks may include sudden increase in extreme temperature or presence of harmful gas fumes.

The risks will vary by type of work location.

A complete assessment and safe operational plan are required, and these should be tailored to the risk conditions at the specific location(s).

Precautions for these confined space risks include mandatory training, and restricting access to only the essential staff needed for a work task.

Precautions for Safety in Confined Spaces

man working in confined space

Precautions for working in a confined space involves significant risk planning.

A confined space with a potentially risky or dangerous enclosed aspect must be evaluated as safe for anyone.

Access needs to be limited to properly trained personnel on an as-needed basis.

Have all reasonable alternatives been examined, before sending in workers to a vat, or any type of enclosed chamber?

Are the potential risks of injury too excessive relative to the maintenance or repair benefits?

If there is a definite need to send workers into a confined space, then assessment continues with an examination of:

  • any hazardous fumes or material
  • access and exit locations
  • the lighting to properly conduct the task
  • and the types of safety alarms in the event of a problem

Very importantly, the assessment must include a review of the training requirements and work supervision levels required.

Precautions demand a well-organized work plan that addresses the confined work space risks and mitigation steps.

Risk mitigation may often include extra personal protective equipment (PPE), communication systems, and other steps to minimize the risk of injury.

Specific Requirements for Confined Spaces

worker with protective equipment in confined spaceThere are specific legal requirements for working in confined spaces.

Chemical plants, as an example, will have well-defined requirements for the safety and access procedures for working in confined spaces.

A septic tank is a confined space that often has local regulations on proper training and protections.

One very specific remedy for safe access to a confined work space is the implementation of a Permit to Work system. This process clearly outlines:

  • the training requirements
  • the work planning steps that are to be conducted
  • limited access to only those workers who have met all the training conditions

Those who have met the conditions are granted a permit to work in the area designated as a confined space.

Your Next Steps: Action Plan for Confined Spaces

In this article we have covered the general concepts and approach to confined space safety.

In summary, any work location that meets the criteria for a confined space requires a detailed assessment of the risks and a carefully prepared task plan that is carried out by well-trained staff.

Feel free to reach out to us with more questions. Advanced Consulting & Training has vast experience training organizations for confined spaces, as well as in consulting for confined space entry management.