By definition, a “Confined Space” is any location in the work place that satisfies any of the following criteria:
- An enclosed space which is not designed to be normally occupied by personnel
- An enclosed space which could potentially contain hazardous levels of gases, vapors, or radiation
- An enclosed space with an Oxygen deficiency environment
- An enclosed space with blocked exit routes or obstacles present in along its egress points
“Confined Space Entry” on the other hand, means bodily entering a Confined Space and can even include putting one’s head or torso into an enclosed location.
Some examples of confined spaces include:
Many work sites opt to restrict any work within a confined space and only authorize it under certain conditions and after careful planning of the risks involved.
Before signing off on any work in a confined space, you must first perform a risk assessment considering all the data available regarding the work environment, the nature of the confined area, as well as the task itself. It’s also good practice to have a rescue plan ready, documented, and understood by all everyone involved in the task. This plan needs to account for many things, including:
1. The Nature of the Confined Space
Assessing the confined work area before granting entry to any personnel is crucial. For example, if the work required is in an industrial plant where hazardous materials are being processed, gas testing for the confined space would be required to determine the levels of hazardous vapors or gases like Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S), Benzene, Carbon Monoxide (CO), etc. You would also need to check if the Oxygen levels are safe for work. Testing the air in before starting the work could help you decide if the area needs ventilation first or perhaps some RPEs (Respiratory Protective Equipment) are required.
2. The Task Itself
You should also need to consider the nature of the work to be performed within the confined space; the task itself could involve releasing of dangerous gases or dust, or generate a pressure build up which requires some form of release or control.
3. Safe Passage To and From the Confined Space
Your work plan should also identify all the safe access and egress points to the work area, in case an emergency occurs and immediate evacuation is required.
Communication among all teams in the work site is key for any project, and when it comes to confined space work it is especially important. How will the people inside the work area communicate with each other? Moreover, how will they communicate with the rest of the teams outside the confined space? Whether by radio, phone, gestures, or even by tugging on their lanyards the form of communication must be agreed upon and understood completely before you let people into any confined work space.
Do you need to have special non-sparking equipment for the job (if flammable gases are present)? How about an external lighting or ventilation source? Or perhaps you need to avail special rescue equipment like ladders, stretchers, life-lines, or eye wash equipment.