Confined Space Close Calls – Don’t Let Your Life Depend on it
Posted by Don Crawford on
Even in 2022, there are still facilities that provide little to no training in confined spaces. It is the responsibility of the employers and employees to be protected while working in confined spaces.
As I chatted with my neighbor the other evening, we started to talk about his 45 years in the trades as a union welder and pipefitter. We discussed how safety changed throughout his career. Of his many experiences, several stories included working in confined spaces. During our chat, he brought up a few “close calls” involving confined spaces. One story that stood out was when he was working in a 20-foot-tall tank that they had to enter to cut off a pipe near the top. He recalled an older pipefitter entering the tank using a ladder and attempting to cut off the pipe. After a few minutes, the coworker came back up out of the tank and stated that the “air was thick, and he couldn’t get the pipe cut.” My neighbor explained he was much younger than his coworker and told him to “get out of the way so he could get the job done so they could go home”. After entering the tank and positioning himself on the ladder to make the cut, all he could remember was making the cut with the torch. Next thing he knew he was on top of the tank with his coworker holding onto his suspenders. Apparently, he started to pass out and was lucky his coworker was able to grab him before he fell off the ladder. This was one of several “Lucky’ incidents in his career. No formal training on confined spaces, air monitoring, or confined space equipment, and no permitting process was not available.
Throughout his career though, having additional training and education on confined spaces, equipment advances, and technology made his job much safer. Yet today, when it comes to confined space entry injuries and fatalities, this adage seems to hold true. Statistics, old or new, show we have not improved mitigating, or eliminating, the risk of confined space injuries and fatalities.
THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS IN CONFINED SPACES
According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program, there are approximately 92 fatalities in confined spaces per year, averaging almost two per week. And more than 60% of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers. According to OSHA, over 4.8 million confined space entries are made every year in the United States. Over 11,000 injuries could be prevented if employers and workers had simply implemented a well-designed and properly executed monitoring and rescue plan and followed the procedures outlined under 29 CFR 1910. 146.
The main reason workers enter confined spaces is to perform their work functions of routine maintenance, repairs, and inspections of the confined space. The causes of most confined space entry incidents are simple; employers and workers fail to recognize and control the hazards associated with confined spaces, and they conduct inadequate or incorrect emergency responses, resulting in the death of the initial entrant, the would-be rescuer, or both. Pre-planning for confined space entry should include all parties involved and should serve the purpose of reviewing entry procedures as well as covering specific hazards inherent to the spaces being entered.
WHAT IS A CONFINED SPACE?
Confined spaces may be encountered in virtually any occupation; therefore, their recognition is the first step in preventing fatalities. OSHA 1910.146(b) defines a confined space by having the following three components:
- Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work; and
- Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit (for example, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, and pits are spaces that may have limited means of entry); and
- Is not designed for continuous employee occupancy
All three criteria in the definition of a confined space must be “true” to have a confined space. Get rid of one of the three, there is no confined space.
Additionally, confined spaces can be deadly because of the potential for engulfment, oxygen deficiency, oxygen enrichment, flammable gases or vapors, combustible dusts, toxic substances, and other physical hazards. Other health hazards that could impact employee safety include electrical equipment, mechanical equipment, poor visibility, biohazards, claustrophobia, noise, radiation, and temperature.
It becomes even more important to be trained on the difference between permit-required confined spaces and non-permit required confined spaces.
TIME FOR THINGS TO CHANGE
Both employers and employees must take confined spaces seriously. Workers and rescuers are still dying or getting seriously injured in confined spaces. Permit-required confined spaces are still the leading cause of multiple fatalities in the workplace. OSHA regulations mandate employers to provide training, equipment, and proficient rescue services for permit-required confined spaces. The reality is, that things must change, and it is the responsibility of all of us, both employers and employees, to be protected while working in confined spaces.
WHO IS INSTRUCTING YOUR CONFINED SPACE TRAINING?
Even in 2022, there are still facilities that provide little to no training in confined spaces. The training required for entering a confined space includes a supervisor, entrant, attendant, and rescue team. Often, many facilities do not take confined space entry preparation seriously. Their confined space entry and rescue training is inadequate, usually a short video with no hands-on practical training.
Honeywell Safety Training provides real-world, hands-on training tailored to the needs of the customer. Our experienced trainers bring years of experience and knowledge to assist the customer in their confined space training. Learn more about confined space training options here: https://safety-training.honeywell.com/collections/all/confined-space