According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an average of 92 fatalities occur every year due to confined spaces, with the most frequent cause of death being asphyxiation or a lack of oxygen. Only six percent of the victims have received safety training specific to confined spaces, and 60% of those who have died were trying to rescue their team members who were trapped.
OSHA, in 29 CFR 1910.146, defines a “confined space” as a potential work space which, by design, is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work; AND, has limited or restricted means for entry or exit; AND, is not designed for continuous employee occupancy. A key word here is “AND”, meaning each of these descriptions must be true for a work space to be considered an OSHA-defined confined space. Typical confined spaces include, but are not limited to:
• Storage tanks
• Compartments of ships
• Process vessels
• Reaction vessels
• Ventilation and exhaust ducts
• Underground utility vaults
A confined space permit is needed when a space that presents such hazards or has the potential to present such hazards – including the potential for toxic air contaminants or reduced oxygen, material that could engulf a person, walls that taper into a smaller area causing entrapment, unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, heat and many other potential hazards.
OSHA requires employers to provide rescue and emergency services (either in-house or a contracted team) that can be summoned and the means to contact those services, but calling 911 should not be the only rescue plan as most workers who die in confined spaces do so because of lack of oxygen. Rescuers only have 4-6 minutes to provide oxygen before the worker begins to lose brain function.
OSHA’s regulation requires the facility to select a rescuer who is:
• Able to perform a rescue in a “timely” manner
• Equipped with the necessary tools to perform a non-entry rescue in the specified type of confined space
• Proficient with rescue-related tasks and equipment
Standard Permit-Required Confined Spaces procedures and practices should include evaluating workplaces to determine if permit spaces exist and informing employees where these confined spaces are. Employers should also prevent workers from entering such spaces, or if they are expected to enter the space, there should be a strong confined space safety program in place.
Workplace Safety can help you improve your confined space program. We offer a variety of confined space services including: confined space identification and logging, developing a confined space locator drawing in AutoCAD™, assessing the hazards of each confined space, labeling of each space, developing a cloud-based application to assist in program management and the ability to issue and manage permits, and training of confined space supervisors, entrants and attendants on how to use the system. Check out our Confined Spaces Services brochure and contact us at 317-253-9737 with any of your questions.