Between January and August 2008, confined spaces caused 22 fatalities and 3 hospitalizations (OSHA Statistics). As with many safety statistics, taking basic precautions and following simple rules can reduce these numbers. In 1993 OSHA issued 29 CFR 1910.146 on Permit Required Confined Spaces. Characteristics of confined spaces change from industry to industry, but similar hazards exist. Common hazards include fires, galls, flooding, entrapment and atmospheric issues.
Defining Confined Spaces
The trouble with determining which spaces require a permit is a clear understanding of what a confined space is. OSHA developed a simple three-step test to determine if a space qualifies as confined and if it will require a permitting before entering.
Step 1 – Is the space large enough that I can enter and perform work?
Step 2 – Are there limited entry and exit openings?
Step 3 – Is the space designed for continuous worker occupancy?
If the answers to steps one and two are yes and step three is no, then you have a confined space. Examples of spaces that meet this three-step test include tunnels, manholes, storage tanks, vats, vaults and process vessels.
Confined Spaces that Require and Entry Permit
Just because the space meets the three-step test above does not mean that it requires a permit for entry. In-order for a space to require a permit it must meet the confined space definition plus one or more of the following:
1. Has or may have hazardous atmosphere. Hazardous atmosphere may cause incapacitation, impairment, injury or acute illness. Hazardous atmosphere may be flammable gas vapors, combustible dust, low oxygen or any other condition that may be hazardous to life or health.
2. Potential exists for engulfment. Liquids or flowable solids (grain, sand, etc.) can cause engulfment.
3. Configured for entrapment. Sloping walls or floors, tapering to like in a grain silo, with narrow openings that could trap or asphyxiate are extremely dangerous.
4. Contains any other recognized safety hazard.
Getting the Permit
If you have a recognized confined space that has one or more of the additional requirements you will need a confined spaces entry permit. Typically, confined spaces that require a permit have posted warning signs and a place to post the permit authorizing entrance. Permits obtained from the company’s entry supervisor and are only valid for the times, dates and persons listed on the sheet.
Each entry supervisor should have a pre-defined form readily available outlining precautionary measures to perform before and during entry into the space. Workers should not enter these spaces before all of the specified safety measures are completed.
Getting Home Safe
In November of 2011, Roberto Magdariaga went to work at Vista Paint as if it was any other day. Vista Paint was a paint manufacturing company that had a good safety record and took employee safety seriously. That particular day, Roberto’s task was to clean out the tanks the company used to store paint. While inside the tank, the fumes from the chemicals he was using to clean a 3,000-gallon tank caused him to pass out shortly after entering the space. A co-worker rushed to aid the fallen Magdariaga, but quickly succumbed to the fumes as well. Thirty minutes later a co-worker discovered the unconscious pair and called for help. Roberto had died of chemical asphyxiation and his co-worker hospitalized.
Accidents like Roberto’s are preventable when following the safety guidelines above. Before entering a confined space check for safety hazards and follow any posted guidelines. Companies that have confined spaces requiring permits should have regular trainings for workers who enter the spaces, reminding them of the hazards and the procedures for entering the spaces.
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