Occupational safety is incredibly important. There are workplace dangers in nearly all lines of work (some more threatening than others), and it is the job of the employer as well as the employee to keep the workplace safe. Some of the most dangerous work environments are what are considered confined spaces. According to OSHA, confined spaces are characterized as those spaces large enough for a person to enter and occupy, however there is limited or restricted means of exit and the space is not designed for extended occupancy by a person. Essentially, these are spaces that are not easily escaped in the case of an emergency.
Confined spaces present hazards and as a result they require special safety precautions. A permit-required confined space (otherwise referred to as a “permit space”) is a confined space that presents serious potential hazards that are an immediate threat to the occupant. These hazards may cause entrapment, illness, injury, and in the most dangerous cases, death. Permit spaces require especially preventative measures that include thorough training & specialized equipment along with designated rescue plans in case of an emergency. Workers must be comprehensively educated about the dangers and the safety practices of the job involved in the confined space.
Some examples of confined spaces may include spaces like manholes, sewers, or storm drains. They may be shafts, attics, ducts, or crawl spaces. Some of the types of work that may be performed in confined spaces include diving, excavations or mining, construction, and maintenance. These may cause workers to come in contact with spaces that may become flooded, caved in, may pose danger of hazardous waste, or affect respiration.
Employers must be the first ones to act preventatively. Employers must recognize if and when their workers will be at risk. If there is a present danger, the employer must make necessary steps to protect the workers. They must inform the workers of the danger and post signs around the space. When the workers do not have work to do in the space, the employer must make sure that the workers stay out. Employers should provide the necessary protective clothing for the workers, and also have safety practices and a rescue plan in place.
Some of the clothing that a worker may have to wear in a confined space may include Tyvek jumpsuits, biohazard suits, fire-resistant coveralls, and other disposable protective clothing. Workers may also need equipment such as breathing masks or dust masks, steel-toe boots, ear plugs, safety goggles, knit gloves, and hard hats.
It is also the job of the employee to protect him or herself in confined spaces. The employee must follow safety practices and know the safety training inside and out before entering the confined space. They must know the rescue procedures and the potential hazards. They must wear all necessary clothing and equipment for the job, and they must make sure to stay away from the confined space when they are not working. Keeping workers safe is a collective effort and can only be accomplished with education, proper planning, and teamwork.
Courtesy of OSHA