Confined spaces continue to be one of the leaders in workplace fatalities. There is always a “reason” why a worker enters a confined space without the important permitting process.

“The employee just went in to grab the shovel or broom.”

“The employee was told to empty the bin and noticed a build up on the side of the bin, so they went in to break it up.”

“The employee was sweeping the floor when they slipped and stepped in the running sub-reclaim screw conveyor.”

“The employee noticed their co-worker was unconscious in a vessel and went in to rescue him.” (Now we have two victims.)

There are several more “reasons” that are inherited from employee to employee training. “That’s the way I was shown” or “That’s how we do it here” is a very consistent answer.

Let us go back to the basics.

What are confined spaces?

Most facilities have several areas that are considered confined spaces, such as tanks, silos, bins, hoppers, pits, maintenance holes, tunnels, vessels, etc.

A confined space is defined as:

  1. An area large enough and so configured that a worker can fully enter and perform work.
  2. Has limited or restricted means of entry or exits.
  3. Not meant for continuous worker occupancy.

What makes a confined space a Permit Required Confined Space?

A confined space becomes a Permit Required Confirmed Space when any one of the following characteristics occur or are present:

  1. The confined space has or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere.
  2. Contains or may contain material that has the potential to engulf an entrant.
  3. Has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant.
  4. Contains any other recognized safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery, open holes in the center, exposed live wires and perhaps heat stress.

Confined Space Safety Tips:

  • Employers must train employees what to do when there is a confined space or permit confined space in the workplace.
  • NEVER enter any confined space if there is an employee unconscious or unresponsive, call or radio a supervisor immediately. They should call 911 and begin the permitting process as well as summoning the rescue team, if available on-site.
  • ALWAYS perform a complete lockout/tagout (LOTO) to ensure all sources of energy are isolated to prevent accidental start up
  • NEVER enter a bin or silo that has a sub-reclaim without grates. LOTO all sources of energy, complete the permit process, and enter when attendant confirms the air monitoring results are within the appropriate range. Install all sub-reclaim grates and exit. Once the grates are installed the sub-reclaim auger conveyor may be unlocked to clean/sweep the rest of the remaining commodity since the hazard has been addressed.

  • The most important step in a LOTO process is the verification process. Verify the LOTO has all energy sources isolated by attempting to start, open, turn on, move, etc. all equipment involved.
  • Use ventilation fans to help bring fresh air into confined spaces.
  • Wear dust masks if the area has airborne dust. The employer shall ensure all work areas are free from known hazards such as combustible dust.
  • ALWAYS have an attendant when entering confined spaces, the attendant’s ONLY job is to watch the entrants and perform continuous air monitoring.
  • Communication is extremely important to ensure the entrants are acting and responding normally. If they seem lethargic/sluggish or breathing heavy tell them to come out and take a break.
  • Never enter a confined space without a safety harness and an attached lifeline.
  • ALWAYS perform continuous air monitoring. Remember to lower the air monitor to all levels of the confined space; some gases are heavier than air and collect at the bottom.
  • ALWAYS perform job hazard assessments for each confined space. Each confined space may have different types of hazards that need to have a plan and be addressed.
  • Include a rescue plan for each confined space entry, and consider an on-site trained rescue team.
  • ALWAYS assume the confined space has bad air. Perform air monitoring before any entry and document the readings.
  • NEVER enter any area labeled “Permit Required Confined Space” without the proper permitting process.

Source:  Glenn Dickey, All-Safe Program Manager at AgriSphere Services, LLC, Decatur, IL: