As per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1,030 workers died from occupational injuries related to confined spaces during 2011-2018.
For confined space workers, every descent into the depths is a journey fraught with potential hazards. Even the slightest oversight can have dire consequences.
If your profession needs you to venture into these tight, often treacherous environments, you need to be cautious and protect yourself from prospective danger.
So, let’s explore the actions that should be taken and avoided at all costs when working in confined spaces.
Things to do
1. Always have a confined space entry permit
Many countries have regulations requiring permits for confined space entry to ensure worker safety and prevent accidents.
First, identify all areas that meet the criteria for being confined spaces and their entry and exit points.
A permit should be issued for each entry, specifying the location, purpose, and duration of being inside.
Review and revise your confined space entry procedures to incorporate necessary changes and stay up-to-date with safety standards.
2. Establish clear communication
Clear communication is essential for conveying safety instructions, alerts, and emergency responses in confined spaces with heightened risks.
Develop a set of clear hand signals or visual cues that can be used when verbal communication is impossible.
Establish a schedule for regular check-ins between workers inside and outside the confined space. This ensures that everyone is safe and aware of the progress.
3. Properly ventilate the area
Determine if the area requires mechanical ventilation, natural ventilation, or a combination of both based on the type of work and potential hazards. Test the air for any specific contaminants or pollutants that must be addressed through ventilation.
If necessary, use mechanical ventilation systems such as fans, exhaust, or air purification systems to control air quality and constantly flow fresh air.
4. Continuously monitor gas levels
Continuous monitoring provides early warnings of gas leaks or increases in gas concentrations. This also helps in rapid response and evacuation if necessary.
Choose gas sensors or detectors suitable for the specific gases you need to monitor. There are various sensor types available for different gases.
Position sensors strategically where gas hazards, including potential leak points, are likely to occur.
Calibrate sensors regularly to ensure accurate readings. Some sensors may require more frequent calibration than others.
Integrate gas level monitoring with emergency response systems to automatically trigger shutdowns or ventilation systems when dangerous levels are detected.
Conduct periodic emergency drills to test the effectiveness of gas level monitoring systems and ensure that workers know how to respond in case of a gas-related incident.
Things to avoid
Don’t disregard rescue plans
In many workplaces, regulatory authorities require establishing and adhering to rescue plans to ensure the safety of workers.
Disregarding these plans can lead to legal consequences and fines. Develop comprehensive rescue plans that address potential emergency scenarios in your workplace.
Consider all possible hazards and scenarios, including rescues, fire, and medical emergencies. Make sure all personnel involved in rescue plans have confined space training.
Conduct regular emergency drills to practice the execution of rescue plans. This helps familiarize personnel with the procedures and identify areas needing improvement.
2. Don’t overlook hazardous materials
If overlooked, hazardous materials can cause health risks, injuries, or even fatalities for workers who come into contact with them.
Store hazardous materials in designated areas with appropriate containment measures, such as spill containment pallets, to prevent leaks or spills.
Work closely with suppliers to obtain the latest information on hazardous materials and any changes to their compositions or safety requirements.
- Don’t work if you’ve medical issues
Working with medical issues can exacerbate your condition and slow down your recovery. Familiarize yourself and everyone else with company policies regarding medical leave, sick days, and disability accommodations.
If a medical issue allows for it, discuss potential accommodations, such as modified work hours or changes in duties, to facilitate a smoother transition back to work.
Remember that taking time off for medical issues is a responsible and necessary step to ensure health and safety.
It also helps prevent potential negative impacts on other coworkers and the quality of work.
4. Never rush into a confined space
Allocate sufficient time for all preparations before allowing entry, including hazard assessment, equipment check, and communication setup.
Proper hazard assessment and preparation take time and are necessary to identify and mitigate potential dangers within the confined space.
Before entry, conduct pre-entry briefings to discuss the confined space, its hazards, entry procedures, and the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Continuously monitor conditions during entry.
The nature of confined spaces varies widely, from tanks and sewers to tunnels and silos. Still, they share common traits:
- Limited entry and exit points
- Restricted mobility
- The potential presence of hazardous substances or conditions
These conditions require confined space workers to be skilled in their trade, vigilant, and safety-conscious.
Surviving the depths requires physical strength, technical expertise, and the best practices outlined in this guide. So, follow all steps to protect your and your colleagues’ lives!