Most individuals associate confined spaces with danger and challenges. The fact is, these working environments pose a great deal of danger both to workers and trained rescuers. Workers in these spaces are encouraged to work within a short period and only when necessary. Anyone entering or intending to work in a confined space must have proper training.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put in place measures and regulations to ensure the safety of workers working in all working environments. While these regulations are general, there are industry-specific regulations intended to ensure the safety of workers in confined spaces.
In addition, there are best practices that the involved industries and workers must adhere to when working in confined spaces. Read on to learn the confined space safety best practices and look at a few real-life case studies.
What Is a Confined Working Environment?
Confined spaces are enclosed spaces with a risk of oxygen depletion, explosion, flooding, or fire. Such environments pose a risk to the safety and health of workers. Besides environments classified as confined, some have risks of poisonous gas leaks or oxygen depletion that can pose serious safety and health risks to workers. Below are examples of places classified as confined spaces.
- Storage tanks
- Cold storage rooms
- Reaction vessels
- Furnace chambers
- Enclosed drains
- Open-topped chambers
- Ship holds
- Cargo holds
Confined spaces pose a significant risk to both workers and rescuers. Notably, more than half of fatalities recorded in confined spaces are those attempting to rescue trapped ones. Therefore, precautions must be taken seriously by all players involved. In addition, there are industry best practices that they must adhere to to reduce risks and increase survival chances. Below are the best practices you must follow while in confined spaces.
Poisonous air and lack of sufficient oxygen can cause fatalities in confined spaces and those not classified as confined. Therefore, air must be tested before entering any confined space, usually by an experienced professional. The air monitoring equipment in use must also have proper and accurate calibration. The test should identify hazardous gases and oxygen levels.
Confined spaces and other typical working environments can have a limited oxygen supply due to poor ventilation. Natural or mechanical ventilation should be installed to ensure workers’ safety in such environments. This process will boost the oxygen supply, ensuring workers breathe fresh air.
-Safety Equipment (PPE)
When the worst happens in confined spaces, personal protective equipment (PPE) is the ultimate protection you need. However, there are varied safety equipment depending on the hazard being faced. No matter what safety equipment you use, the knowledge and skills of correctly using and maintaining it significantly determine its effectiveness. Having the proper tools in confined spaces without adequate training is the same as lacking one – they’ll serve a false sense of security, exposing you to more risks.
Below is the safety equipment each worker in confined spaces must have, depending on the hazards handled.
- Protective clothing
- Personal gas monitors
- Head protection
- Respiratory protection
- Eye and face protection
- Foot protection
- Hand protection
- Hearing protection
- Safety harness and lifelines
-Rescue and Retrieval Procedures
Besides the safety equipment, there should be proper rescue and retrieval procedures to ensure those trapped are rescued quickly. In addition, workers in confined spaces should have good communication equipment to alert those outside in case of emergencies or fatalities.
All players must be trained in confined working environments, including workers, rescuers, and other stakeholders. First, they must have the proper knowledge and skills to handle working and safety equipment in confined spaces. They must also learn the appropriate communication means to alert rescuers of emergencies. On the other hand, rescuers must possess the right skills for emergency response and communication.
Other Best Practices
Regulations alone are not sufficient to eliminate fatalities in confined spaces. Every player working in confined spaces must put the best practices into play in their daily duties.
Workers should apply best practices in the following areas:
- Identification and marking of confined spaces across the working environment.
- Hazardous components evaluation and control in the workplace.
- The implementation of a confined space entry program. Workers must have proper training in such programs before hiring.
- The application of safety equipment in the working environment.
Let’s look at different case studies involving fatalities in confined spaces.
Case Study 1: Asphyxiation by Hazardous Gas
In 2011, two siblings fatally died after being asphyxiated by Hydrogen Sulfide. The two brothers were working on their drainage system when the 16-year-old sibling was asphyxiated, causing him to fall into the deep shaft. His 22-year-old brother unsuccessfully tried to rescue him but also died two days later while receiving treatment in a hospital. Investigations pointed out high levels of hydrogen sulfide, a hazardous gas produced when bacteria break down animal, human, and organic waste. The deaths of the two boys could have been prevented had there been appropriate preventive measures, including proper breathing gear. Also, the lack of rescue procedures resulted in the 22-year-old’s death.
Case Study 2: Oxygen Depletion in a Confined Space
Boat attendants realized a fault in the crane’s hydraulics and sent two men to inspect the pipework. However, the boat’s metal hull had severely rusted, depleting oxygen in the confined chamber.
Moments later, one of the men passed out. The other managed to escape and alerted others. Two other workers came to the rescue of the passed-out colleague. They successfully rescued the first two workers, but unfortunately, they died moments later due to lack of oxygen.
The employers confessed that they had neither inspected the confined space nor properly trained their workers. Had these best practices been put into play, neither of the workers would have died.
Every worker and other players involved in any industry must adhere to the OSHA regulations. Confined work spaces require adherence to industry-specific best practices to ensure the safety of workers. In addition, employees must be adequately trained and equipped with appropriate safety equipment to reduce the risks of fatalities in confined spaces.
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