The thought of working in a small, enclosed space makes me gasp for air!  Certain people feel smothered in situations when their work involves being placed in a closed or partially closed space.  Confined spaces should be made safe for the worker by taking the proper precautions to ensure that it is secure.  Those with claustrophobia can’t help this feeling, and should seek other jobs. 

There are many regulations that deal with confined space entry.  A Confined Space Hazard Assessment and Control Program must be conducted prior to the beginning of work.  Confined spaces can be more hazardous than other workspaces for several reasons.  Workers are killed and injured each year while working in confined spaces, and an estimated sixty per cent of the fatalities have been among rescue workers.  

Let’s review some of the places that people must work that are considered confined spaces:

  • Open ditches; (possibility of collapse);
  • Silos
  • Manholes
  • Wells
  • Tunnels
  • Cold storage units
  • Tanks
  • Culverts
  • Vaults
  • Rail tank cars
  • Caves
  • Underground mining
  • Sewers
  • Pipes
  • Boilers

Reasons for these  being considered confined spaces are that they have a restricted entrance or exit by way of location, size or means.  Also, they are not originally designed for human occupancy.  Places such as this can indicate a risk for the health and safety of anyone who enters, due to the materials and substances in it (bad air), and the way it is designed.  Other hazards include fire hazards, noise, temperature extremes, uncontrolled energy, barrier failure and visibility.  All potentially hazardous energy sources: electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, mechanical, chemical must be de-energized and locked out prior to entry to the confined space, preventing accidentally turning on power sources. Ventilation is of the utmost importance while working in these conditions.  Natural ventilation is not reliable and insufficient to maintain the air quality.  It is usually necessary to maintain air quality through mechanical ventilation (fans, blowers).  While workers are inside confined spaces, there should be someone standing close by that is prepared to get them out, in case of an emergency.  This plan of action should be in place prior to entering the space, and communication between the inside and outside should be constant.  

Confined space hazards are mainly controlled through traditional methods, such as engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment.  Special precautions not usually required in a regular worksite may need to be taken.  Mechanical ventilation is the engineering control regularly used.  Entry Permit system is a type of administrative control, and personal protective equipment (respirators, ear plugs, hardhats, and gloves) is commonly used in confined spaces as well. 

It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure their workers are safe while working under these conditions.  If the worker feels proper precautions were not taken, they should not enter until it is made safe by additional means.


Source: CCOHS (Canada)


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