Safety is always the number one priority during any construction project, especially when the project requires confined space entry. Confined space rescue is inherently dangerous due to the restricted means of entry/exit and the potentially hazardous atmosphere that may exist within the space.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), over 4.8 million workers enter confined spaces annually, and over 11,000 injuries that occur could be prevented if employers and workers followed the appropriate procedures.
What is a Confined Space?
OSHA defines a permit-required confined space in six parts:
1) Large enough for an employee to enter fully and perform assigned work.
2) Not designed for continuous occupancy.
3) Has limited or restricted means of entry or exit.
4) Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere.
5) Contains a material with the potential to engulf someone who enters the space.
6) Has an internal configuration that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated.
Statistics Behind Confined Space Accidents
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approximately 60% of confined space fatalities are rescuers. The data around confined space accidents reveal that safety procedures need to be improved to reduce the number of annual injuries and fatalities.
- 85% of the time a supervisor was present
- 31% had written confined space entry procedures, and 0% used these procedures
- 0% had a rescue plan
- 95% were authorized by supervision
- 15% had confined space training
- 0% of the spaces were tested prior to entry
With confined space work being so dangerous it’s important to follow specific safety guidelines during a confined space entry to prevent fatalities and injuries from occurring.
Preventing Confined Space Accidents
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a system of Recognition, Testing, Evaluation, and Monitoring to prevent confined space accidents from occurring.
Workers must be trained in the ability to recognize what constitutes a confined space and the hazards that may be encountered in them. Training should stress that death is the likely outcome if proper precautions are not taken.
Testing, Evaluation, and Monitoring
All confined spaces should be tested by a qualified person before entry to determine whether the confined space atmosphere is safe for entry. Tests should be made for oxygen level, flammability, and known or suspected toxic substances.
Evaluation of the confined space should consider the following:
- Develop methods for isolating the space by mechanical or electrical means (i.e., double block and bleed, lockout, etc.)
- Survey openings to provide an assessment of how much room workers and/or rescuers will have to enter a confined space, and what types of equipment they will be able to bring with them.
- Institute lockout-tagout procedures
- Ventilate the confined space to prevent noxious gases from entering
- Mandate safe working procedures, including the use of safety lines attached to the person working in the confined space and its use by a standby person if trouble develops
- Always wear personal protective equipment (clothing, respirator, boots, etc.)
- Consider necessary special tools
- Institute a communications system
The confined space should be continuously monitored to determine whether the environment has changed due to the work being performed.
Rescue procedures should be established before entry and should be specific for each type of confined space. A standby person should be assigned for each entry where warranted. The standby person should be equipped with rescue equipment, which includes: a safety line attached to the worker via a full-body harness, a self-contained breathing apparatus, protective clothing, and durable boots.
It is important to remember that it is not always possible to rely on 9-1-1 for a confined space rescue solution. Depending on the situation, authorities may not have the manpower or capability to perform a rescue.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.
Rescuing someone in a timely manner requires an in-depth knowledge of the parameters and configuration of the confined space. Rescue drills provide personnel the experience of working through different scenarios in order to familiarize themselves with situations they could encounter in confined spaces.
Establishing a Confined Space Rescue Plan
Projects that require confined space rescue are technically complicated and always dangerous due to the nature of confined spaces. There are numerous injuries and fatalities that happen every year in confined spaces that could be prevented through increased focus on adhering to safety and rescue procedures. Companies should establish and frequently practice their safety and rescue procedures to ensure that all workers are confident in the confined space rescue process should an emergency rescue situation arise.
Pipe & Plant has a specially trained confined space rescue team that is fully trained and certified in OSHA safety and rescue procedures. Our team frequently practices confined space rescue procedures, ensuring that they will be ready to respond to an emergency should one arise. Please contact our team or request a quote to have us help with your next project.