Understanding OSHA’s Confined Space Requirements

Author
Stephanie McCauley

Confined Space Training by Safety Services Company

Understanding OSHA's Confined Space Requirements

Working in a confined space can be extremely dangerous. Confined spaces pose serious risks such as entrapment, exposure to noxious fumes, physical injury, and suffocation due to lack of airflow. Because of these very real scenarios, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set very strict guidelines for employers and employees regarding working in a confined space. Confined space training is necessary in order to ensure the safety of workers.

What is a Confined Space? 

By OSHA's standards, not all work spaces without windows or ventilation are considered a confined space. Officially, an area is considered “confined” if it fits all of the following:

  • Confined spaces are large enough to allow an employee to perform a specific task to completion
  • Confined spaces are not designed to accommodate an employee for long periods of time
  • Confined spaces have limited access to an entrance or an exit

What is a Permit-Required Space?

Furthermore, a confined space isn't always a permit-required space. A confined space is considered a permit-required space if it has the following attributes:

  • A permit-required space houses hazardous materials that can harm an employee
  • A permit-required space contains objects that are big enough to engulf a person
  • A permit-required space has limited ventilation that can expose an employee to chances of suffocation and asphyxiation
  • A permit-required space contains any known safety and health hazards

What Are Common Hazards Found in Confined Spaces?

Hazards can come in many forms, and safety guidelines are in place because workers can be seriously injured or killed in confined spaces. These hazards can include:

  • Lack of ventilation: Not having ample oxygen circulation in a space can pose serious health risks to employees. Having to work in such conditions may result in extreme fatigue, nausea, and migraines. 
  • Lack of ample light source: Poor lighting can cause obvious eye strain. However, in confined spaces, not having a stable light source can lead to accidents and injury. 
  • Presence of noxious fumes: Combining noxious fumes and limited ventilation is a recipe for disaster. Aside from being flammable, working in conditions that allow exposure to gas and vapors may result in serious lung ailments.
  • Unstable temperatures: An environment that is too hot or too cold can pose serious risks to a person's health and wellness. 

What Are OSHA’s Confined Space Guidelines?

In order to ensure the safety of employees, OSHA requires employers to:

  • Create boundaries to discourage unauthorized entry to permit-required spaces
  • Regularly evaluate hazards present after allowing employees access
  • Monitor atmospheric conditions in a permit-required space before and during employee entry
  • Test for the following hazards:
    • Oxygen levels
    • Presence of combustible gas
    • Presence of toxic fumes
  • Ensure the safety of employees by implementing policies and procedures regarding the use of permit-required spaces
  • Identify employees that have access to the confined space
  • Provide protective gear to employees that work in permit-required spaces. Note: All costs must be covered by the employer
  • Ensure an assigned attendant remains outside of the space while in use
  • Map out a coordination plan should there two or more employees required to use the permit-required space at the same time
  • Create an emergency procedure should an injury or accident take place. Coordinate the procedure to workers with access to the confined space
  • Annually review permit-required space operations, including identifying the employees that should be added or removed to the list of permitted users

What Are Entry Permits?

Permit-required spaces must be evaluated and tested prior to authorizing employee access. Entry permits must be signed off by the entry supervisor and a copy must be posted on all entrances.

These entry permits must include the following details:

  • The names of employees with authorized access
  • Test results with the signature of the evaluator
  • Name and signature of entry supervisor
  • Purpose of the space
  • Known safety hazards
  • Procedures that should be enacted in order to curb the effect of known safety hazards
  • Contact details of the emergency response team
  • Duration of authorized entry
  • Allowed conditions for entry
  • List of equipment and procedures required to ensure safety of the entrant

Who Can Enter Permit-Required Spaces and What Are Their Responsibilities?

Per OSHA, an entry attendant, an authorized entrant, and an entry supervisor all have responsibilities to ensure safety:

Entry Supervisor

Entry supervisors are responsible for granting or canceling entry permits. They are also required to know all the hazards and emergency procedures that come with working in a confined space. Additionally, entry supervisors must regularly check if means for rescue is available and entry operations remain consistent for every use. 

Entry Attendant

The main purpose of an entry attendant is to keep watch while an employee is using a confined space. Entry attendants must remain outside and in communication with the workers in the area. They must be knowledgeable in emergency procedures, and in emergencies are the first line of communication between the employees and responders.

Authorized Entrant

Only authorized workers are granted access to a permit-required space. These employees are required to be familiar with emergency procedures and how to safely manage the hazards present. Authorized entrants must also wear adequate protective gear at all times, and must notify the attendant if a potentially dangerous situation arises.

What Procedures Should be Followed in an Emergency? 

According to OSHA, employees have three lines of defense should an emergency occur:

SDS 

Exposure to hazardous materials is a very real risk when it comes to permit-required spaces. These areas are required to have a copy of all relevant Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) in order to help medical responders safely treat the injured.

Harness Cables

Employees who enter permit-required spaces must have harness lines strapped onto their chest or their wrists. These lines must be connected to a retrieval line outside of the area. 

Rescue Team

Responders must be capable of arriving to the emergency's location in a timely manner. They must also have the necessary equipment to perform the rescue. Other than first aid and CPR training, responders must also be familiar with the rescue procedures required for the site's specific confined space emergencies.

Summary

Remember, confined spaces can cause serious injury or even death, so policies and procedures must be established to prevent such incidents. As a business owner, it can be very daunting to properly adhere to OSHA's complex list of guidelines.

Thankfully, you don't have to do it all alone. Safety Services Company is here to help. To learn how we can solve your company's confined space training and compliance needs, check out our products and services here or call us at (866) 329-5407 today. Remember, your one inquiry can save lives. 

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