I Have to Enter a Confined Space; What Do I Need to Know?
You may find yourself tasked with entering a confined space for your construction, industrial or other heavy industry occupation. Let me be the first to say, thank you. Thank you for going into that tiny, anxiety-inducing space to complete a task that needs to be done for the rest of us. You have no idea how fearful people are of small spaces (or maybe you are). In any case, you’re brave and the rest of us mere mortals appreciate it. Now, here’s how to be safe in there:
OSHA states that a “confined space has limited openings for entry or exit, is large enough for entering and working, and is not designed for continuous worker occupancy. Confined spaces include underground vaults, tanks, storage bins, manholes, pits, silos, underground utility vaults and pipelines” (See 29 CFR 1910.146).
Does the confined space require a permit?
Dependent on certain factors and characteristics of the confined space, a permit may be required to work inside it. OSHA says that a permit-required confined space:
- May contain a hazardous or potentially hazardous atmosphere.
- May contain a material which can engulf an entrant.
- May contain walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant.
- May contain other serious physical hazards such as unguarded machines or exposed live wires.
- Must be identified by the employer who must inform exposed employees of the existence and location of such spaces and their hazards.
Do I need PPE?
Most likely. It is standard that confined space entrants don hearing protection, eye protection, hand protection, hard hats, chemically treated protective garments, and respiratory protection, or a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) if necessary. Additional PPE may be needed depending on the characteristics of the space, of which your employer is required to provide you with.
Who is required to be present while I’m in the space?
What makes me eligible to enter a confined space?
You are eligible to enter the confined space upon successful completion of confined space training which should allow you to:
- Be properly trained on all anticipated hazards of permit-required confined spaces.
- Know how to use all equipment properly.
- Know the signs and symptoms of exposure to hazardous atmospheres and how to perform self-rescue.
- Know the evacuation signal, and understand that the attendant can initiate immediate evacuations requiring all entrants to exit.
Additionally, it’s your responsibility to:
- Remain in constant communication with the attendant.
- Alert the attendant when: The entrant recognizes any warning signs or symptoms of exposure to a dangerous situation.
- The entrant detects a condition that is not allowed on the permit.
Just because you read this blog post doesn’t mean you’re ready to jump right into a confined space (though I do pride myself on my research skills). It’s important you seek to educate yourself about all areas of the safety hazards contingent with a confined space. You can find that by reading these sources:
- OSHA Confined Space Quick Card (Print it out and keep it on you)
- Confined Space Grant Materials PDF (Lengthy, but incredibly informative)
It is your responsibility to make sure you protect yourself from the dangers of entering a confined space by being trained, authorized, and knowledgeable. It is your employer’s responsibility to make sure you feel safe enough, have the proper PPE, and have plenty of assistance prior to and during entry. Do your research, be capable & confident, communicate with your employer, and be SAFE!