CONFINED SPACES: THINK SAFETY FIRST

Workplace safety should always be at the forefront and a top priority for the worker and employer. One potential danger in the workplace is a confined space. The Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) has defined a confined space as any space with an open top and a depth possible of restricting the natural way air moves, or an enclosed space with a limited opening for entry. Confined spaces include utility vaults, tanks, sewers, silos, access shafts, vats, hoppers, rail tank cars, truck tanks, culverts, ship holds, wells, tunnels, walk-in freezers cold storage, etc.

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Dangers of a Confined Space. A confined space can have all the risks that are generally associated with any type of workspace, but also have other factors that might pose an even greater threat to the worker. For example, some confined spaces can contain certain mechanical equipment that use moving parts during operation. Other factors that might increase the risk in a confined space include: The design of the space, its construction, location, atmosphere, substances in the space, and type of work being performed in the space. Furthermore, a worker in a confined space could also face a number of preventable safety issues related to noise level, biological hazards, and life-threatening cold or heat temperature extremes. Unexpected safety issues are also a concern for the confined space worker: A shifting or collapse of heavy material; unstable atmosphere, which could cause an explosion or fire; an unexpected release of radiation or residual chemicals, liquids unexpectedly filling the space, etc.

The potential dangerous hazards can also include how much oxygen is available in the space or if there is the presence of a poisonous substance in the air, either of which can result in the worker losing consciousness.

Entering a Confined Space. There must be an evaluation of the confined area by a trained supervisor and/or trained worker every time a worker enters a confined space to carry out work. The first step is to check the quality of the air in the confined space, which includes: Checking for safe limits of oxygen, presence of toxic gasses, and anything that could cause the atmosphere to be flammable. The ventilation system should also be checked for proper function.

Depending on the situation, other steps might be taken before the worker enters the confined space. This safety precaution might include steps such as: Locking out any energy source that is potentially hazardous or removing free flowing solids or liquids. Applicable personal protective equipment (respirators, safety glasses, gloves, and/or ear plugs) should be available for use. A worker should never enter a confined space if they are not confident that they could evacuate the space quickly in an emergency circumstance. The worker should also be able to immediately contact a trained employee outside the space in the event of a problem.

No matter what the job, confined space type, or reason for entering the confined space, always put safety first by securing the workspace.

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