Unsafe practices in confined spaces can lead to severe injuries, even death.
A temporary worker in Illinois was crushed to death earlier this year when he entered a concrete mixer's mud hopper. In order to prevent such accidents and losses, safety managers must comply with OSHA's confined space regulations.
Confined spaces—also called “permit-required spaces” or “permit spaces”—are areas not necessarily designed for people, but large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, according to OSHA. These spaces, which include silos, storage bins, manholes and ductwork, have limited means of entry or exit and are not designed for continuous occupancy.
Here are a few tips you can use to keep your employees safe and your company compliant while working in confined spaces.
Understand the Hazards
A thorough understanding of confined spaces' dangers is paramount to creating your related safety policies. For most permit spaces, dangers include a combination of:
- Hazardous atmospheres
- Materials with the potential to engulf the entrant
- Walls that converge inward
- Floors that slope downward into a smaller, entrapping area
- Unguarded machinery
- Exposed live wires
- Heat stress
Know What Inspectors Look For
When it comes to staying compliant with each and every detailed OSHA rule, it pays to understand the areas inspectors will focus on the most. These areas of interest include:
- A lack of fall protection for anyone working at a 6 foot elevation or higher
- Improper hazard communication: chemical labels, material safety data sheets and training manuals
- Improperly used respiratory protection
- Ungrounded wires
- Lockout / tagout procedures not properly used to control hazardous energy sources (electrical, mechanical and thermal)
- Unguarded, hazardous machines
Follow OSHA's Confined Spaces Guide
OSHA has released a brief guide on safely managing hazardous, confined spaces. Its most important guidelines include:
- Do not enter permit-required confined spaces without training and a permit to enter.
- Understand and follow employers' procedures regarding entry and exit of each confined space.
- Before and after entry, identify physical hazards and test for oxygen content, flammability, toxicity and explosive hazards.
- Always maintain contact with an attendant – visually, via telephone or by two-way radio.
Designate Employee Safety Representatives
If your business can't afford a full-time safety manager, you'll need to designate at least one employee to oversee matters of compliance, risk avoidance and safety education. And, even if your business already has a safety manager, you should still pass some of those responsibilities onto other workers to increase participation and buy-in to your company's safety policies.
Label Dangerous Spaces
Thoroughly label the outside of every permit space. Labels should note the need for a permit, training requirements and details on the hazards contained within. They should also remind entrants of the need for certain safety equipment, as well as an attendant.
Track Training with Safety Management Software
Even for small businesses, it can be difficult to keep track of which employees have been trained on which tasks and when. To better manage your team's training for working within a variety of confined spaces, one of the best solutions is a safety management program such as BasicSafe's Training Management module.
With this software, you can create custom training programs, upload and link to other training materials and, most importantly, track the status of each team member for each training module you create. You’ll never have to guess whether one of your employees has been trained to enter confined spaces.
For more tips on complying with OSHA regulations for confined space permits, check out our guide, “How To Pass Your OSHA Audit With Flying Colors.”