Education and evaluation of the dangers of confined space work are essential across many industries. To understand the potential risks associated with confined spaces and how they may relate to your business, you first must know
- What a confined workspace is
- The distinction between a general confined workspace and a permit-required confined workspace
- The two main hazard types to be aware of
- How to predict and specify the hazards present
- How to gauge the severity of the hazard
- And how to neutralize or contain the hazard.
A confined workspace is defined as any space which is described by all three of the following characteristics:
- Size and shape allow for a worker to enter and work
- Entry and exit are restricted
- The space is designed for temporary occupancy only
A permit-required confined space is any confined space that possesses the qualities above in addition to either existent or potentially hazardous or toxic conditions. Specifically, permits are required to enter a confined space if it
- Has or could have a toxic atmosphere
- Contains any liquid or viscous material capable of trapping or burying workers
- Is structured in such a way that entrapment or asphyxiation is likely
- Or possesses any other serious safety hazards.
When evaluating the dangers of a confined workspace, the hazards you identify will fall under one of two categories:
- Physical hazards
- Atmospheric hazards
There is a large range of physical hazards possible in confined spaces. Here are just a few:
- Chemical exposure
- Gases or vapors that are flammable
- Airborne incendiary particles
- Other toxic airborne substances
- Low oxygen
- Educate yourself beyond this article.
- Stay updated on state and national hazard alerts.
- Research OSHA and NIOSH databases.
- Consult with trade associations.
- Measure airborne contaminates, gases, and oxygen levels with a direct-reading instrument.
- Compare your readings to acceptable standards.
Elimination or complete removal of the source of the hazard is preferable when possible. In cases where elimination is not possible, it is mandatory to employ effective hazard control methods such as forced air and mechanical ventilation to ensure worker safety.
If your business’ workplace contains confined workspaces, regardless of your industry, it is imperative that you research your state’s requirements for entry. Failure to do so can result in serious injury or death of employees. OSHA publishes up-to-date resources and alerts to help business owners learn and navigate confined workspace safety protocols.