According to OSHA, a confined space comprises of these 3 parts:
- It should be large enough for a worker to fit in and do their job comfortably.
- It should have a restricted exit and entrance.
- It is not meant to be a permanent or long term workplace
This basically highlights a number of work areas that general industry workers access on a regular basis. There are basically 2 kinds of spaces like this according to OSHA. Non-permit and permit required confined spaces and both have their own particular characteristics.
A confined space that requires a permit will feature all 3 characteristics along with the following:
- It has an atmosphere that is hazardous to health
- It comprises of a substance that can suffocate workers
- It has converging walls or a sloping floor that tapers down to a small area
- It contains life threatening safety and health hazards.
Once a workspace has been determined to be confined, employers should identify it formally through either signs or through effective communication. In addition, a written program should be prepared for workers who will work in the space. This includes procedures that can help them work in confined spaces without putting their lives at risk.
Confined spaces that do not require permits on the other hand do not contain the abovementioned hazards. Workers who are working in non permit required confined spaces are not in danger of being asphyxiated by collapsing material or from a hazardous environment.
However, irrespective of the confined space workers are working in, both have to have a comprehensive safety plan set in place. They also need to adhere to OSHA 1910.146. Confined spaces that do not require permits can be accessed as many times as needed but the limited space still calls for safety precautions. It does not require signs but workers should be trained to be cautious nonetheless.
OSHA standards for Confined spaces
OSHA 29 CFR 1910.146, comprises of procedures and practices that need to be in place to ensure workers are protected from hazards. Every employer should examine these workplaces to determine whether they require a permit or not.
In case a confined space requires a permit, all workers involved should be informed of where it is and the inherent hazards it has. A simple sign stating that only authorized entrants are allowed should be sufficient to prevent others from venturing too close.
Workers who are not authorized to work in permit required confined spaces must be protected by employers as well. This includes taking measures to ensure they do not enter those spaces either deliberately or by mistake. A permit space program should be drafted for them to prevent that from happening.
Under certain conditions, some workers can be allowed to enter permit required confined spaces. In such cases employers should prove that the space only has a potentially hazardous work atmosphere via appropriate inspections. The space should also be prepared to be safe for entry via artificial ventilation. In this case, non authorized entrants can enter the confined space and the employer will not face legal repercussions.
However, this does not mean that workers should not be supervised during this time. Even under these conditions, the internal space of the space should be tested regularly. In case the atmosphere gets volatile or flammable due to increasing oxygen, flammable gas and vapor buildup, workers should be taken out. In addition, forced air ventilation should never be shut off and the required measurements should be taken before entry.
Due to the dangerous hazards present in confined spaces, all workers should be given proper training and even those who are not authorized entrants. This will prevent accidents and unauthorized entries in those spaces. They should also be constantly tested for volatile and flammable components to reduce chances of fatal accidents.
Confined Spaces & Permit Required Confined Spaces (GI) Training Program
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