Heading into work, the days tasks running through your mind. Paper work in order, crew in place you enter a labeled confined space area, with the same familiarity, that a businessman would have in going to the office each morning...
You're at the entrance of a labeled confined space area, you hear a thud and then quiet. You know something has gone wrong. Your team-mate is in danger and needs your help. You go into action...
Which one are you? Are you the person who is constantly working in a confined space setting? Are you a team-mate, a confined space attendant or rescue personnel? How you approach your job, how you approach an emergency makes all the difference in the world.
A confined space is defined as "[having] limited openings for entry or exit, is large enough for entering and working, and is not designed for continuous worker occupancy. Confined space include underground vaults, tanks, storage bins, manholes, pits, silos, underground utility vaults and pipelines. (OSHA'S list of characteristics that identify a Permit-required confined space.)
A signed permit is needed before entry into any confined space with hazards. The permit documents these three main steps taken to safely enter the space.:
Confined space hazards are identified.
Evaluation of the hazards using methods such as atmospheric monitoring.
An elimination and controlling of the listed hazards.
A rescue plan must be in place prior to entry. OSHA requires attached entries using a rescue line and winch system when possible. A trained rescue team maybe required in more complicated entries. (NFPA confined space Fact Sheet)
In General Consider These Do's and Don'ts:
Don't enter confined spaces unless you have a good reason to do so and you have adequate training, equipment and permit if one is required.
Don't go in "blind. Enter a confined space only when you know it is safe to do so.
Do make sure that a qualified person assesses the hazards of the confined space.
Do test the air in the confined space.
Do ventilate the space with fresh air.
Do plan ahead before entering the space and have an emergency rescue plan ready.
Do follow safe work procedures and use any necessary equipment.
In the opening scenarios its important for an employee to remember that their environment can change. Don't let the familiarity of your job, or your environment blind you to the hazards present or any that may develop.
A 2014 statistic from NIOSH stated that 60% of confined space fatalities have involved a would-be rescuer. If you find yourself in that position, resist the urge to blindly rush into action. Every moment that passes is crucial, but what good will you do anyone if you rush into danger ill-prepared?
It is important to carefully review and be familiar with the rescue plan before a crisis occurs. Know your equipment, test the air, have a qualified rescue team on hand if the situation calls for one. We hope this article has served as a reminder to everyone who works in and around a confined space, whatever form it may take. Work safe everyone!