Working in confined spaces can be challenging. Many work injuries and deaths that happen each year are related to confined space work, making it one of the most hazardous kind of job in any work setting. In fact, sixty percent of confined space fatalities are the would-be rescuers. Which is why Canadian employers are required to create a Confined Space Hazard Assessment and Control Program in their organization.
But how do you determine what a confined space is?
For a space to be considered as “confined” , it must meet three criteria:
- It has limited means of egress with only one way of entering/exiting,
- Not designed for continuous occupancy, meaning there are no provisions for lighting, HVAC and such; and
- The space is large enough for a body to fit in and perform work.
Some examples of confined spaces include manholes, silos, tunnels, ventilation and exhaust ducts, storage tanks and pipelines, among others.
Confined spaces present many dangers including lack of oxygen, poisonous gas and liquid build up, fire and explosions, high dust concentration, and excessive heat, among others. Then there are the potential dangers that may arise from when the actual work is being carried out. Machinery that is being used may need special precautions, such as provisions against electric shock. Also, if men are trapped inside a space with restricted entrance, escape or rescue will be more difficult.
If your job requires you to work in confined spaces, you need to use the proper tools and equipment to safeguard yourself and others against these hazards. Working safely in confined space requires special training in knowing more about the common risks and how to manage them, including which safety tools and equipment to use. These include:
All spaces must be identified, documented and marked so workers will understand what level of protection is necessary. Confined space signs clearly and effectively warn workers and guests of dangers in these areas, ensuring their well-being and safety. Post danger and caution signs at strategic places to indicate hazardous and restricted areas.
Labels provide secure identification to authorized confined space workers and visitors, so you can control access to your hazard areas. This also helps discourage potential trespassers and unauthorized personnel from restricted areas. Display these confined space labels on machinery, equipment, or in any potentially dangerous area to warn workers, maintenance crews or repairmen of confined spaces and the dangers.
A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is essential if the air inside the confined space is not fit to be inhaled because of the presence of fume, gas, or vapour, or lack or oxygen. Respirators minimize work related injuries and save time and money. There are different kinds of respirators available, so make sure you are using the right one.
When going down a manhole or to a lower level of confined space, you need to use fall protection equipment like harnesses, lanyards, carabiners, and lifelines to allow for the safe and effective lowering and lifting of workers. Fall harnesses are also used by rescuers to remove trapped workers in a confined space safely and quickly out of danger.
Hard hats and face shields protect your workers from potential head and face injuries such as falling or piercing objects and electrical shock that may happen while working in a confined space. All personnel must wear head protection before entering a confined space.
Goggles and safety glasses protect your eye from heat, chemicals and injury from foreign objects that may be present in confined spaces. Operating machinery inside confined spaces can create excessive loud noises. You need to wear proper hearing protection to protect your ears from damage. You also need to protect your hands and feet from possible injury while working in a confined spaces.
Powerful lighting such as safety lamps is a must for dark confined areas to be able to perform your tasks well. Ventilators and blowers are needed to provide air circulation. You must also makes sure that your tools are non-sparking to avoid fire and explosion from flammable or potentially explosive atmospheres.
Confined spaces that are deemed too dangerous to use must be sealed and locked to prevent further access. Devices such as switch locks also prevent people from activating electrical or mechanical equipment while someone is inside a space working on the said equipment.
It is possible to work safely in a confined space, but it needs careful planning and preparation to achieve this. A strong and compliant confined space program will guide you in doing this. You need to follow all safety precautions and never take shortcuts when it comes to confined space safety. Don’t hesitate to speak up or ask questions when you are unsure of the correct procedures. You are the key to making your confined space safety program a success. By consistently following safe work ethics and procedures, you can continue to work safely for a long time.
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