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Three Ingredients of a confined space tragedy

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1 Three Ingredients of a confined space tragedy في السبت 24 يناير 2009, 2:33 pm

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Confined spaces can be awkward and uncomfortable to work in. What's more, hazards are generally even more severe when they exist in confined spaces. Today our Safety Training Tips editor gives some tips for avoiding an OSHA citation—or worse—an accident.


Confined space accidents happen more often than you might think. And the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says that these accidents, which often result in injuries or fatalities, usually occur because entrants encounter one or more of the following potential hazards:

Lack of natural ventilation
Oxygen-deficient atmosphere
Flammable/explosive atmosphere
Unexpected release of hazardous energy
Limited entry and exit
Dangerous concentrations of air contaminants
Physical barriers or limitations to movement
Instability of stored product


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In most confined space accidents, three essential safety elements are lacking, and if you want to avoid a tragedy at your facility, take heed:

Lack of recognition of the hazards by employees and supervisors
Lack of testing and evaluation before entry and monitoring after entry
Lack of effective plans and resources for successful rescue of entrants

Recognition of hazards is a major key to safety. There are nearly 5 million permit-required confined spaces in workplaces across America and another 1 million nonpermit spaces. The key to keeping workers safe in those spaces is training. Training must emphasize recognition of what constitutes a confined space, the numerous hazards that may be encountered inside one, and the precautions that must be taken by confined space entrants, attendants, and supervisors to prevent accidents and injuries. Confined space training shouldn't pull punches either. Trainers should stress that death is a likely outcome in confined space accidents.

Testing, evaluation, and continuous monitoring are essential. More than half of confined space fatalities are due to hazardous atmospheric conditions such as toxic vapors or lack of oxygen. NIOSH says that before entry, all confined spaces should be tested by a qualified person to determine whether the atmosphere is safe. Tests should be made for oxygen level, flammability, and known or suspected toxic substances. Evaluation of the confined space should consider the following:

Methods for isolating the space from mechanical, hydraulic, or electrical energy sources
Implementation of lockout/tagout procedures
Ventilation
Cleaning and/or purging
Safe work procedures for entrants
Required PPE (for example, protective clothing, respirators, boots, gloves, eye protection)
Special tools (for example, nonsparking tools)
Communications system to be used between entrants and attendants

While workers are inside, the space should be continuously monitored to determine whether the atmosphere has changed and become hazardous because of the work being performed or any other circumstances.


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Trained, equipped, and experienced rescue personnel must be available in case of emergency. A significant percentage of fatalities involve would-be rescuers who rush in without proper training or equipment. NIOSH says rescue procedures should be established before entry and should be specific to the type of confined space and its hazards. Any time employees enter a confined space, properly trained and equipped rescue personnel must be ready and able to quickly respond in emergencies. Attendants should be trained only to attempt rescue if they can do so safely from outside the space by using safety lines attached to entrants. NIOSH emphasizes that rescue procedures should be practiced frequently enough to provide a level of proficiency that eliminates life-threatening rescue attempts and ensures an efficient and calm response to any emergency.


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Why It Matters...
Here are just a few examples of the confined space accidents that occur annually:

A 22-year-old worker enters an empty toluene storage tank to clean it. Although a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is available, the worker isn't wearing it when he is overcome, collapses onto the floor of the tank, and dies.
A 43-year-old father collapses after attempting to rescue his 28-year-old son from a tank used to store spent acids from a metal pickling process. The tank is out of service so that sludge can be removed from the bottom. After the two are finally removed, the son is revived, but the father dies.
A work crew entering an underground pumping station fails to ensure that the pump has been bypassed, which means the transfer line is still under pressure. When they remove the bolts from an inspection plate, the force of the wastewater blows the plate off and sewage floods the chamber, trapping and drowning one of the workers. A co-worker, a supervisor, and a police officer also die when they attempt a rescue.

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