Confined spaces: we hear about them a lot, but there’s so much confusion surrounding what they actually are. Several workers are injured and killed every year when working in confined spaces, and it’s estimated that 60% of those fatalities are from individuals attempting to perform a rescue. That’s concerning, and a huge reason why there needs to be a clear distinction in your mind regarding exactly what constitutes a confined space.

Your organisation should have a Confined Space Hazard Assessment and Control Program in place. Make sure yours observes all the regulations that are in place for your area of the country, since they can vary between jurisdictions.

But back to the subject at hand. What makes a confined space, well,  a confined space?

Generally speaking, a confined space is a fully or partially enclosed space that:

  • Is not primarily designed for human occupancy
  • Has a restricted entrance or exit by way of location, size, or means
  • Can represent a risk for the health and safety of anyone who enters due to one or more of the following factors:
    • Its design, construction or atmosphere
    • Work activities being carried out in it, or
    • The mechanical, process and safety hazards present

Confined spaces can be above or below grade, and you’ll find them in almost every workplace. Despite its name, a confined space is not necessarily small – think silos, vats, hoppers, utility vaults, sewers, pipes, access shafts, truck or rail tank cars, aircraft wings, boilers, manholes, manure pits, and storage bins. Even ditches and trenches can be confined spaces if access or egress is limited.

 The Hazards

Contemplate all the hazards you might find in a regular workspace. Now picture those hazards in a confined space – the danger factor rises significantly. Some hazards you might face in a confined space include:

  • Poor air quality – there could be an insufficient amount of oxygen for breathing, or the atmosphere could contain a hazardous substance. Natural ventilation won’t be enough to maintain breathable quality air.
  • Communications – 100% entrant/attendant communications should be the end game
  • Chemical and/or biological exposure – Protect all four routes of entry into the body:
    • Inhalation (breathing)
    • Absorption (skin contact)
    • Ingestion (eating)
    • Injection
  • Fire – the atmosphere could be explosive or flammable due to flammable liquids, vapours and combustible dust that could spell disaster if ignited.
  • Process-related hazards – consider residual chemicals, or the release of contents in a supply line.
  • Safety hazards – moving parts of machinery or equipment, structural hazards, vibration, or slips, trips or falls.
  • Temperature extremes – both atmospheric and on the surfaces.
  • Noise
  • Radiation
  • Visibility

There’s so much to consider when working in a confined space. You don’t have the same margin for error you might have when working in a regular work area. Even the slightest error in identifying or evaluating the potential hazards in the confined space could have devastating consequences. Don’t even think about entering until you know all the facts.

Still Have Questions?

Check out one of our many comprehensive online courses related to confined space entry and safety:

Michael Douglas

National Manager, Marketing Segments

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