Are You Ready for Work Inside a Confined Space?

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Before any worker attempts to work inside a confined space, there needs to be a plan for these tasks.

Planning is the most vital component when it comes to every part of confined space work. You need to make sure everyone involved has the right training, the proper personal protective equipment and a plan for how to enter, work inside and exit the confined space. You also need to take into account potential atmospheric hazards, physical hazards and configuration hazards as well as the importance of having a comprehensive rescue plan in place.

All types of industries require confined space work, including construction, food and beverage processing, petrochemical refineries, and many others.

types of confined spacesPicking Appropriate ACCESS Equipment and PPE (Work INSIDE), including Respiratory Protection for Confined Space Work

You should try to ensure that a confined space is safe to work in reducing the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) including respiratory protective equipment (RPE). Reliance on PPE should be a last resort and every effort should be made to create an environment within the space free of hazards.

If your risk assessment does identify the need for PPE, it needs to be suitable for the application and should be provided to those trained to use it and properly used by those entering and working in confined spaces. This may include hard hats, safety glasses, clothing that protects against chemicals, flash fires and other hazards, as well as gloves and safety shoes.

It is important to remember that respiratory protection must be fit tested prior to use. And before any RPE is used, it must be inspected every time to make sure that there is no damage such as cracks, holes and no signs of wear or loose connections. Always follow the manufacturer User Instructions.

Hazards of Working Inside of Confined Spaces

In some cases, there may be a need to limit the time period that professionals are allowed to work in a confined space, for example where RPE is used, or under extreme conditions of temperature and humidity. This can also be the case when the confined space is so small that movement is severely restricted.

There may be additional risks to consider, such as:

  • Corroded structures
  • Cold temperatures
  • Loss of rigidity when a tank is drained
  • Trip hazards
  • Noise

These risks should be considered when conducting a general risk assessment and addressed as far as reasonably practical so that every potential hazard is accounted for and is part of a plan for how to enter, work in and exit each confined space on a worksite.

Where there is a risk of a flammable gas being present in a confined space, which could be ignited by electrical sources, you should always consider using intrinsically safe PPE and other equipment.

All equipment should be carefully selected bearing in mind the conditions and risks where it will be used. Electrical grounding should be considered to prevent static charge build-up. In addition to isolation, mechanical equipment may need to be secured against free rotation.

Communication

An adequate communication system must be in place and should enable communication: (a) between the worker inside and the attendant; (b) between the attendant and entry supervisor; and (c) to the attendant in order to summon help in case of emergency. Whatever system is used – and it can be based on speech, tugs on a rope, the telephone, radio etc. – all messages should be able to be communicated easily, rapidly and unambiguously between relevant people, especially if they may not be able to see one another. There are some PPE that incorporate communication systems that allow this to be more seamless.

Also, consider whether the communication methods are appropriate for any workers wearing breathing apparatus. The communication system should also cover the need for those outside the space to raise the alarm and set in motion emergency rescue procedures.
Also, equipment such as telephones and radios should be specially protected so that they do not present a source of ignition where there is a risk of flammable or potentially explosive atmospheres.

Five Key Roles for Confined Space Entries

Confined space entries can be thought about as requiring five key roles, and each has each has their own unique needs and demands:

1. HSE Management – These people are responsible for the safety and health of all workers on a job site. They may not be completely knowledgeable on confined spaces and are looking for single source solution. They want to make sure there is a plan, that employees have the right equipment and employees have completed the right confined space training before any work commences in order to ensure compliance and reduce liability.

2. Supervisor – Approver – They are responsible for ensuring the confined space is ready for entry and that they have proper confined space training so they can properly oversee the work that will commence in and around the confined space. They may need PPE and other equipment for themselves, including head and face protection, area monitors for facility turn around as well as initial gas detection instruments.

3. Attendant – Worker Outside Space – The attendant is responsible for watching over the work in the space, monitoring air quality in the space, communication with the Entrant and initial non-entry rescue. In addition to the same equipment the supervisor may need, they may also require protective apparel, respiratory protection, continuous gas detection monitoring devices, protective communications and fall protection equipment.

4. Entrant – Worker Inside Space – The entrant is performing the work in the space. Often there may be a primary and standby entrant into a space. Specific PPE needs are dependent on the work being performed but may include head and face protection, protective apparel, continuous gas detection monitoring instruments, respiratory protection such as supplied air and an air supply, protective communications, as well as fall protection in addition to entry and retrieval equipment.

5. Emergency Response Team – Deaths often occur during rescue. Why? Lack of planning and training for these types of dangerous situations. This can happen to the people who are in the confined space to perform work as well as those who may have to go in and rescue them.

Emergency rescue teams must be available while authorized entrants are in a confined space. They need to properly plan for rescues and have the right training to help ensure successful and safe retrievals. It is also important that they understand how to use PPE and other equipment that may be needed during a rescue operation.

Want to learn more about how you can get in easily and get out safely from a confined space? Visit our page devoted to confined spaces and the solutions we have to help you with these situations.