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Confined Space & Site Rescue Plans - What you NEED to know

April 8th, 2020
Confined Spaces are an important hazard to be aware of on any jobsite. Confined spaces pose unique dangers, and often require specialized equipment in order to be protected. OSHA considers confined spaces, anywhere that “… are not necessarily designed for people, and are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs. A confined space also has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.”
Some classic examples of confined spaces are tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, pits, manholes, tunnels, equipment housings, ductwork, and pipelines. Additionally, there can be areas designated as “permit-required confined spaces”, which are especially hazardous and contain one or more of the following characteristics: contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere; contains material that has the potential to engulf an entrant; has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant; or contains any other recognized safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress.
When planning to enter a confined space, safety personnel needs to ask 3 basic questions:

1. What could be inside the space that would pose a risk?
• Toxic Atmosphere
• Oxygen Deficiency or Enrichment
• Contents and Residues
• Flammable/Explosive Atmospheres
• Flowing Liquids or Solids
• Excessive Heat
• Structure and Layout

2. What will be created due to the work carried out in the space?
• Ignition Sources
• Flammable Substances

3. What‘s outside the space that might pose a risk during the proposed work?
• Inadequate Isolation
• Inadvertent Operation of Plant
• Nearby Work Activities

One of the most important pieces of equipment that can rule out many of the problems above is a standard 4-gas monitor (Oxygen, Hydrogen Sulfide, Carbon Monoxide, LEL). A pump with tubing and a probe is a great way to sample the atmosphere to ensure its safety prior to entering any confined space. It is also a good policy for every worker entering a confined space to wear their own monitor in order to be alarmed for any changes in atmosphere in their immediate area. As technology improves, gas monitors are available with features such as man down sensors, interconnectivity, and data-logging. Ask your safety supplier for information about gas monitoring equipment, bump testing, and calibrating in order to stay safe and compliant!

Fall protection is another key PPE component in confined spaces. Often, entering confined spaces requires workers to go into areas where a fall could be fatal. Places like manholes, tanks, and silos that are especially dangerous. Remember, OSHA requires some sort of fall protection (passive or active) if there is a fall potential of 48” or more. Tripod systems are the classic protection for manholes, as a 3-way SRL can be attached for fall arrest, winching to pull a worker out, or restraint to keep workers away from a ledge. When using a tripod or any fall protection equipment, all personnel must be trained not only to use the equipment, but also trained on the site rescue plan.

As with all things in life, nothing is guaranteed, and even when you do everything right, something can go wrong. Site rescue plans are a must have in case things do go wrong. Simply stated a site rescue plan lays out: emergency contacts, necessary rescue equipment, important rescue factors (such as potential obstructions), pre-work tasks (such as probing the atmosphere), and response procedure. Rescue plans can vary greatly based on the task at hand, the hazards involved, the location of the work, etc. The main point is to go over all potential hazards and have a plan that is enacted immediately when things go wrong, because when they do, every second counts! Simply put, if your plan is to simply call the local fire department, you are already behind the eight ball.

There are many resources available to you for free online from OSHA, and fall protection manufacturers. If you need help assessing a job and developing a plan, please reach out to your safety supplier or call us at 608-273-3520!