Industrial workers who need to work in confined spaces as part of their job duties face significant risks and dangers.
What makes these confined spaces so dangerous is not just the small space itself but the actual hazards associated with working in this specific situation.
These areas were not designed for human presence.
Vats, tanks, pipes, silos, shafts, containers, wells, trenches, tunnels, pits, chimney, underground sewers, or any other enclosed or semi-enclosed structures are considered hazardous confined spaces.
Some hazards associated with confined spaces…
- Unsafe oxygen levels due to poor ventilation and hazardous atmospheres rapidly changing
- Harmful airborne contaminants within the confined spaces
- Fire or explosion caused by the ignition of flammable vapours and dusts
- Restricted entry and exits that hinder rescue efforts for injured workers
- Engulfment in a free-flowing material such liquids, grain, or sand which can result in suffocation
- It is essential that employers have safe practices in place to control risk and to keep their workers safe.
Here are five safe practices that employers can adopt to minimize the dangers associated with confined spaces…
1. Eliminate or minimize the risks
The most effective way to keep workers safe is to eliminate the need to enter the confined space.
If that is not possible, then a safety system must be created in order to minimize these risks.
Start with identifying the possible risks of entering the space such as oxygen levels, airborne flammable contaminants, fire or explosion risks, and engulfment.
Then consider whether this environment is stable or has potential to change without any detection, and the type of work to be carried out in the confined space. Also, consider the type of emergency and rescue efforts that would be required.
2. Use an entry permit
To ensure that all components of the safety system are in place before a worker enters the space, an entry permit must be issued.
This permit describes the nature of the confined space, the names of the people authorized to enter the space, how long the permit is valid, and specific work duties required to do before and during work.
When the work is completed, it is essential to acknowledge that everyone has left the space.
Before a worker enters the space, all hazardous services should be isolated so they do not adversely affect the environment within the confined space.
Such isolation could include preventing airborne contaminants from entering the space through piping, ducts, or vents, or inadvertently releasing any stored or potential energy from the plant.
Isolation points can be set up through practices such as locking, tagging, closing, and other safety measures.
Communication and monitoring
It is imperative that there is a designated stand-by person outside the confined space that continuously watches and monitors the well-being of the workers that are performing the work tasks within the space.
This stand-by person must have constant communication with the workers and be able to detect changing conditions that may be of danger to the workers.
Being able to call for emergency help and to start the rescue procedures is vital for this role. Communication can be carried by voice, radio, signals, or other forms of communication.
Offer safety training
Training your workers and supervisors is key in understanding the risks associated with confined spaces.
They should be competent in the skills needed to work and supervise others in such a hostile work environment.
It is also important that they are knowledgeable in the controls that are in place to keep the workers protected, their individual roles, and what an entry permit allows.
Re-training should be offered on a regular basis to keep these skills and knowledge fresh in the minds of all employees that work around or inside confined spaces.