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Without specialized training and equipment, it can be hazardous to enter and exit a confined space. Confined space work may present dangers not just for workers, but for anyone that goes in to rescue them if something goes wrong. This is where confined space equipment can be a literal lifesaver.
A confined space is generally defined as an area that has an opening big enough for a worker to access and enter to perform their work, but isn’t intended for continuous occupancy and has limited means of entry and exit. In addition to this, permit-required confined spaces have additional requirements: the confined space contains or could contain a hazardous atmosphere, material that could engulf an entrant, walls that converge inwardly and could trap or asphyxiate a worker, and other recognized serious health or safety hazards such as machinery, live wires, or biohazards. Many workers across industries have to do some work in confined spaces. Confined spaces can include silos, vats, hoppers, utility tanks, vaults, sewers, pipes, manholes, and other similar spaces.
PK Safety carries a range of gas detection equipment and gas monitors that workers can wear in their breathing zones to alert them to multiple hazardous gases or atmospheric hazards. These gas monitors have long battery lives, robust sensors, multiple alarm types to make sure the message gets across, and they can be configured with customized alarm points by our technicians if you have specialized detection needs. Some of these monitors are compatible with smartphone apps or other data systems to ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page about the readings and hazards in the workspace. Confined space radios can round out team communications to ensure that everyone is getting the same information and that clear instructions can be given—an essential part of a confined space worker’s toolkit. Workers will also need to wear harnesses to help get into and out of confined spaces.
No matter where you’re working, confined space equipment needs to provide ventilation, a proven safe way for workers and equipment to enter and exit, protect the already very limited number of access points, and keep non-workers from falling into exposed entrances. In addition, all of this equipment needs to meet or exceed the applicable ANSI standards as laid out by OSHA, especially the 1910.146 Permit Required Confined Space Standard. Employers are responsible for creating a worksite that’s as safe as possible for employees, which in the case of confined spaces means providing access to confined space entry equipment because there’s no entering or leaving those spaces safely without it.
Entering and exiting some types of confined spaces requires a retrieval device, such as a harness, a tripod, and a winch. Harnesses that are well-suited for confined space work will be certified to ANSI Z359.11-2014 (or CSA Z259.10-12 for our Canadian friends) and often have five aluminum or steel D-rings and two additional shoulder D-rings to allow for easier lifting out of a narrow confined space while using a tripod and winch. This system, when combined with fall arresters, can also help workers avoid serious injuries related to falls that would make rescue and exiting harder. Harness sizing will vary based on the manufacturer, but all of your equipment should fit to ensure that the equipment works as intended. A tripod (or guardrail, ladder, hoist, or another piece of access equipment) will give you the basis for getting into the confined space, and there are tripod kits with all the equipment you need to begin your confined space work. Winches are your exit strategy, especially in the event of an emergency: it’s way easier to lift an unconscious or injured worker and all of their gear out of a confined space when you have a winch giving you the benefits of mechanical advantage.
There’s little airflow coming into these spaces naturally, which means that there isn’t as much fresh air coming in: this can create a hazardous atmosphere through either depleted oxygen levels or a buildup of toxic fumes, which can include carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and chemical solvents. Ventilation can help, but it isn’t foolproof, and PPE like gas monitors can help workers stay as alert as possible, and respirators can help them breathe easier.
Air quality is a major problem for confined space workers across industries, whether the atmosphere is extremely dusty, potentially explosive, or just toxic. Combine that with the fact that a lot of atmospheric hazards are invisible and have no smell or taste, along with a shortage of oxygen, and it can be very easy to get hurt or sick from respiratory hazards. Confined space fans and blowers are attached to ventilation ducting to allow fresh, oxygenated air to be brought into a confined space or toxic gases and fumes to be pushed out. If your confined space is really warm, the fresh air might keep workers from overheating as well, which is an added plus. Sources of supplied air or respirators could also protect workers’ airways from hazards and keep fresh air nearby.
Confined spaces have hazards on the outside as well, and should be clearly marked and cordoned off. If your work is being done in a permit-required confined space, your permit should be posted where everyone can see it and be aware of the dangers before entering the space. Even if you don’t have a permit-required confined space, though, warning signage is a good idea for workers and passersby alike. Guardrails can create a physical barrier between people and an open manhole or other confined space entrance, which can help keep anyone from accidentally falling in.