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Confined spaces are dangerous places

Our safety focus in February is on working safely in confined spaces.

Confined spaces present some unique and serious hazards that can result in severe injuries and even death. Each year, hundreds of workers die from accidents in confined spaces. 

Confined space entry incidents are the leading cause of occupational fatalities in the U.S., primarily as a result of workers entering spaces without identifying the hazards, not developing and following the required procedures, or attempting to rescue downed co-workers without taking the required precautions.

In fact, earlier in January this year, three underground utility workers in Florida died after losing consciousness in a drainage hole due to a buildup of hydrogen sulfide and methane. They entered the confined space without proper personal protective equipment or gas monitoring equipment.

Hazards often associated with confined space entry work that lead to injuries and fatalities can include a lack of oxygen, the presence of hazardous gases or materials above safe levels, engulfment by liquids or finely divided solid materials such as grains or soil, and physical contact with energy sources such as electrical wiring, moving equipment, hot surfaces, hot air or steam.

What is a confined space?

A confined space is one that has all three of these characteristics:

  1. It’s large enough that someone can enter the space with his or her entire body.
  2. It has limited openings for entry and exit.
  3. It isn’t designed for continuous human occupancy.

Here are 11 safe work practices that need to be followed for safe confined space entry.

  1. Evaluate the confined space to determine the possible hazards, classification, signage and security to prevent unnecessary entry. If possible, engineer out the possible hazards to avoid the need to enter the confined space.
  2. Ensure employees who are working with the confined space – those employees who are assigned as the entry supervisor, attendant and entrant – have successfully completed confined space entry training.
  3. Make sure the confined space entry permit is completed and reviewed with everyone who’s associated with the task. You should talk through all possible hazards, the requirements to enter and exit safely and what to do in an emergency and a rescue situation.
  4. Check the operation of the air monitoring equipment before entering the confined space to make sure it’s working properly and is calibrated. Check that the alarm signals are audible.
  5. Inspect all confined space entry equipment including personal protective equipment and the rescue apparatus.
  6. Conduct a pre-entry briefing with all authorized entrants and attendants prior to entry. Entrants and attendants must verify the entry supervisor has authorized the entry and all the requirements are met prior to entry.
  7. Notify the fire department or rescue service (when needed) and those in the surrounding area before and after the confined space entry.
  8. Monitor the confined space atmosphere prior to entry for oxygen, combustible gases and potential toxic air contaminants. Check to ensure all atmospheric hazards are at acceptable levels and continue to monitor at the appropriate frequency.
  9. Be ready to evacuate the space if you get orders from the attendant or entry supervisor when an air monitoring alarm is sounded or when a prohibited condition or dangerous situation is recognized.
  10. Entrants and attendants should inform the entry supervisor of any hazards confronted or created in the space or any problems they encounter during entry. The entry supervisor should then inform the owner of the issues.
  11. Once the confined space entry task is complete, permits should be reviewed to identify any possible improvements. Keep the permits in the project file for at least one year.

Let’s focus on following all confined space entry safe work practices in February and in all of 2017 to keep each other safe.

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Britt Howard

Vice President, Enterprise Director of Health, Safety, Security, Environment and Quality
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