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How to Manage Confined Space Hazards

confined spaceGenerally, a confined space is defined as a space not designed for workers, yet workers occasionally need to enter the space to do their job.

Confined spaces typically have limited means to enter and exit. They also often come with additional hazardous conditions, such as poor air quality, chemical exposure, fire hazards, noise, moving parts, entanglement hazards, radiation, temperature extremes, shifting material and uncontrolled electrical energy.

Most industries have confined spaces in the workplace, such as boilers, pits, wells, tanks, towers, large pipes, bins, silos, mixers, dryers, vaults. (For a more complete list, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s confined space list.)

Permit-Required Confined Space

OSHA regulations require employers to identify and manage confined spaces in the workplace with a permit system. OSHA regulations deem a confined space as “permit-required” when it meets one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Hazardous atmosphere
  • Material that could engulf
  • Internal configuration that could trap or asphyxiate
  • Other recognized health or safety hazards.

Once a space is deemed permit-required, employers must put in place a written permit entry system. Essentially, the system requires workers to acquire a permit from an entry supervisor before entering the space. The system is designed to prevent unauthorized entry and to eliminate or control for hazards when entry must occur.

Hazard Reduction Methods

Basically, two methods are used to reduce the hazards of confined spaces: limit exposure and control the hazard. Exposure is limited by methods such as erecting barriers and specifying acceptable entry conditions. Workers can also wear safety equipment such as respirators and protective clothing to reduce exposure.

Sometimes the hazard itself can be temporarily controlled. If the hazard is atmospheric, workers may be able to purge, flush or ventilate the space before entering. Barriers, shields and ladders may help protect employees from material that might trap, engulf or asphyxiate.

Should things go wrong, workers can use a retrieval device to rescue a worker who falls unconscious in the confined space—without placing anyone else in danger.

For more information on confined space requirements, see OSHA’s booklet Permit-Required Confined Spaces. The Department of Labor also has an elaws Confined Space Advisor that gives guidance to employers to protect workers from confined space hazards.

Revised Standards for Confined Spaces

You may be interested to learn that OSHA is planning to revise standards for confined spaces in construction.

If you’re interested in this topic, register for OSHA’s confined spaces webinar, scheduled for October 2nd.

PPE for Confined Spaces

At Select Safety Sales, we carry a number of PPE products for working in confined spaces, including sight, hearing, hand and head protection. We also carry an assortment of respirators, safety harnesses and lanyards.

If you need help finding a particular product or have questions, contact our safety experts via email, chat or call toll free (866) 864-3495.

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