The Dangers of Working in Confined Space -Part 1

Confined spaces pose several physical and environmental hazards to a worker—and employers must understand the risks, those most vulnerable, and hazard mitigation techniques.

Have You Ever Been Required to Work in a Confined Space?

When we think of confined space, it is easy to only imagine them as being very small areas that are only present underground. Although underground confined spaces are many, tanks, silos, storage bins, vaults, and water supply towers are a handful of confined spaces that exist above ground. Thus, confined spaces do not necessarily have to be small areas to fall under this category.

A confined space is an area that has constrained or limited entry or exit. Even if the entry is only partially closed, space is still considered confined as the worker is often unable to enter or exit freely. Most confined spaces were not meant for human inhabitants but are temporarily occupied by workers as they complete employment duties. Due to entry and exit barriers, confined spaces pose a multitude of safety hazards. In essence, the space itself might be poorly constructed and prone to collapse, the area may contain poisonous substances that have built up or collected over time, or the work required to be done in the space could be dangerous in the first place. All these risks are amplified as the confined space gets smaller, more difficult to exit, or less accessible to other workers.

Here Are the Risks

For those companies that do not employ workers who perform their jobs in confined spaces, it is easy to forget how dangerous working in these types of spaces can be. Each year, approximately 92 workers die in confined space-related workplace incidents, according to the US Department of Labor. This is equivalent to nearly two workers every week.

The troubling reality is that any hazard that could otherwise be encountered in the workplace can also occur in a confined space. But, the critical thing to consider is that these hazards will be much more severe in an area where entry and exit are limited. Situations, where workers are overcome with poor air quality or inadequate oxygen supply, radiation, toxic gases, extreme temperatures, structural or construction issues, explosive or flammable substances, or electrical hazards, can become deadly in a matter of seconds if the worker is unable to evacuate quickly.

For instance, poisonous gases are much more likely to build up in a smaller, poorly ventilated space than outside or in a large building. This build-up can occur quickly, and if a worker is unable to escape the confined space, they could very quickly be overcome by the toxic gas. Furthermore, the nature of the space makes a co-worker’s ability to rescue the distressed employee exceedingly more difficult.

Workplace conditions can change very quickly. It is also important to point out that communication barriers may come into play if an employee is working alone in a confined space.

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