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Confined Space Entry: Safety Requirements Business Leaders Need to Know

07/01/2019

Confined Space Entry: Safety Requirements Business Leaders Need to Know

The statistics for fatal workplace accidents in confined spaces are alarming and unavoidable. Safety requirements are regularly refined and updated to keep more workers safe in confined spaces. To meet the definition of a confined space that requires an occupant to have a permit, it will satisfy three broad criteria:

  • It is be large enough to accommodate a single individual performing work while fully inside
  • There is limited or restricted access for entry and exit
  • It is not designed for continuous occupancy

It is not terribly alarming that every year, 2.1 million workers enter permit confined spaces in the United States. What is alarming is the nature of fatal accidents associated with these workstations. Among the most shocking is the fact that 60 percent of those killed are would-be rescuers, who make up the greater number of those killed in incidents that involve multiple deaths.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

It gets worse. According to NIOSH, 85 percent of fatal incidents occurred in the presence of a supervisor, 29 percent of whom are among the deceased. No one of the spaces in which a fatal accident took place had been either ventilated or tested before the worker entered.

But here’s where the numbers begin to stretch credulity. Although 30 percent of those killed in these accidents had themselves authored confined space entry procedures, not one had implemented them at the time. None had a rescue plan.

How many of those who perished in permit confined space accidents, including first responders and rescuers, had received proper training and were knowledgeable of confined spaces safety requirements? Only 15 percent. That may be why OSHA reckons that up to 85 percent of confined space fatalities could be prevented by having a formal confined space entry program.

Hazards of permit confined spaces

One of the key aspects of a training program is teaching participants how to intuitively recognize the hazards inherent to confined work spaces. One of the major contributors to fatal incidence is also one of the least apparent to workers and rescuers, and that is poor air quality and the risk of asphyxiation. First of all, even the most pristine contained atmosphere quickly becomes tainted with carbon dioxide the longer a worker occupies it. Oxygen concentration concurrently decreases.

Some spaces build up other harmful gases such as methane, carbon monoxide, or hydrogen sulfide, which were implicated in one of the most heartbreaking accidents in modern history. On January 16, 2017, three underground utility workers in Key Largo, Florida, perished they entered a confined space without the proper personal protective or monitoring equipment.

The first to succumb was a 34-year-old pipe layer, who lost consciousness soon after breathing in toxic fumes. Two fellow employees, aged 49 and 24, lost their lives while rushing in to save him. Subsequently, two additional workers plus one firefighter survived exposure to the noxious gases.

OSHA fined the two companies that were responsible for the safety of the site and its personnel nearly $120,000 for 10 serious infractions, including:

  • Failing to develop a write. Hazard communication protocol.
  • Not making available a direct-Reading device to test for toxic gases.
  • Not erecting a guardrail around the manhole.
  • Failing to provide relevant training.
  • Failing to create and document a confined space entry permit.

While asphyxiation is a major hazard in confined spaces, it is by no means the only one. Workers in grain or flour silos similar storage facilities are at risk of explosion due to ignition of small particles. In May 2010, Missouri shipbuilder faced $1.2 Million in fines following an explosion that claimed the lives of two workers and seriously injured two others.

The fines covered 17 confined space infractions, including failing to provide explosion-proof lighting, inspecting and testing a confined space, and permitting entry into an enclosed area where dangerous concentrations of flammable gases could build up.

How to train your employees to observe safety requirements in confined spaces

As little as one day’s training can safeguard your personnel from death or injury from electrocution, explosions, asphyxiation, engulfment, falls, or heat stress. Everyone in your company from owners, safety directors, managers, maintenance technicians, service center employees, electricians, building managers and superintendents, plant and facilities managers, warehouse employees, and environmental health and safety officers should attend a comprehensive training course.

While OSHA itself does not undertake training, it does license suitably qualified and resources organizations to offer training on its behalf. National Technology Transfer Inc is one of these companies. Your company can host onsite seminars with minimal resources to save travel and accommodation expenses, or you can send your crew to one of its many training Centers. If you want to save lives and avoid costly fines, contact us at NTT Inc for more information about this and other training courses we offer.

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