Important Questions to Ask about Confined Space Regulations and Safety: Part 1 of 2
Confined spaces are among the most hazardous working environments in different workplaces that could easily result in severe injuries and even deaths. Good news is that when you know what the hazards are and how to remedy them, you’ll be able to avoid several unwanted scenarios while safely attending to your duties. Common risks associated with confined spaces include the presence of toxic gases and vapours and reduction in oxygen levels. Other hazards may also result from other risks in the spaces including heat stress, electrical hazards, coming into contact with moving parts, limited visibility hazards, and biological or bacterial concerns. Below are important questions to consider when working in confined spaces.
What is a Confined Space?
Any enclosed or partially enclosed space in your workplace that’s not intended for continuous human occupancy can be referred to as a confined space. Such spaces normally have restricted means of access, which could become hazardous to the employee(s) trying to enter or exit the place. For a space to be defined as a confined space, it should meet the following three conditions: is large enough to enable employees to enter and complete their tasks, contains a hazardous working environment, is not designated for continuous human occupancy, and has restricted or limited means of access. Examples of confined spaces include boilers, vats, pits, process vessels, storage tanks, pipelines, sewers, reaction vessels, silos, ship compartments, underground utility vaults, ventilation/exhaust ducts, degreasers, and tunnels. When accessing these spaces, consider that you have the relevant access equipment such as safety ladders to ensure your safety and convenience when working on your tasks.
What are Common Hazards?
Confined spaces usually contain a variety of hazards, from physical to mechanical and biological, atmospheric or chemical. The spaces could either be oxygen-enriched or oxygen-deficient. It could contain physical hazards such as structural issues, radiological risks, electrical hazards, and the potential for engulfment from liquids and flowing solid substances. You may need to revisit previous permits or assessments for confined spaces to identify the types of hazards present. You can also consult other safety professionals and agencies from other departments or workplaces and gather as much useful information on dealing with any gas, liquids, or power within confined spaces.
Are All Confined Spaces Treated Equally?
No. When it comes to confined space safety, there are permit-required and non-permit-required confined spaces. Permits help provide a systematic review of safety hazards and an approval process for access to confined spaces. To know if you need a permit to access a confined space, consider if the space has at least one of the characteristics below:
Contains materials with the potential to engulf your workers or contractors.
Has the potential to contain a hazardous work environment.
Has other recognized health and safety hazards like heat stress, exposed live wires, or unguarded machinery.
Contains floors that slope downward or walls that converge inward and taper into a smaller area with the potential to asphyxiate or trap your workers.
It’s important that you treat all confined spaces as permit-required until you have confirmed them to be free of hazards or have made necessary safety considerations for the hazards that can hardly be eliminated. You also need to develop and implement safe work practices for entry into non-permit-required spaces.