If your workers have to enter a permit-required confined space, training is a must. But do you, or they, know how to recognize one?
Manholes, sewers, crawlspaces, shafts, HVAC ducts, escalator pits — these are places that can trigger a bout of claustrophobia in susceptible people sooner than they can say “get me out.” But they can also pose serious safety hazards to workers toiling in them, which is why OSHA has standards designed to make sure they can get in and out safely and do their job without threatening their health.
OSHA’s standard for Confined Spaces in Construction, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA, defines a confined space as any area that meets each of these criteria:
- Is large enough for a worker to enter
- Has limited means of entry or exit
- Is not designed for continuous occupancy
Whether you manage commercial, residential or infrastructure construction, you have a responsibility to inform your workers — and subcontractors — about safety procedures for working in confined spaces.
OSHA requires special training for workers who must enter a confined space where a serious hazard exists that could interfere with their ability to leave without assistance. A “permit required” area meets the following criteria:
- Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
- Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant
- Has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section
- Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard
“Not every area that would be considered a confined space is marked with a ‘danger’ sign, so all workers really need to know how to recognize a confined space and then what to do if they have to enter one.”
On a hot day, even an attic in a new home could qualify, since workers may be at risk of heat exhaustion, which could hinder their ability to exit the attic without help.
Too often, contractors ignore hazards present in seemingly “normal” situations — a crawlspace where a generator is placed too close to the entrance, potentially filling the space with carbon monoxide; a drainage shaft on a residential worksite that lacks sufficient oxygen, potentially rendering entering workers unconscious; a water line below ground in an unventilated shaft, where noxious vapors from an epoxy coating being applied could accumulate to deadly effect.
“Not every area that would be considered a confined space is marked with a ‘danger’ sign, so all workers really need to know how to recognize a confined space and then what to do if they have to enter one,” said Tina Davis, United Rentals representative. “Not being aware of the hazards, such as engulfment threats or atmospheric conditions, can quickly lead to a fatal mistake.”
Confined space training is the key to recognizing these hazards and working safely in and around these spaces. OSHA offers an online construction-specific confined space training course, as do a number of companies, including United Rentals.
“Our courses are delivered by expert trainers throughout North America at our locations and customer’s sites,” said Davis.
“If people don’t have time for an in-person class, they can complete the same quality of training online, at their pace, even from a mobile device. New this year, we have created Confined Space Safety Expos that are being scheduled all across the country. Folks will not only attend the standard class, but they’ll also hear from rescue services, an experienced safety professional and get hands on experience with some of the safety equipment commonly used in confined spaces, plus they get reference material even after the class is over.”
Employees will learn information that can make their jobs easier and possibly even save their lives.
“In the classes we teach, we go over the OSHA standards that relate to confined space safety, how to determine if the confined space is permit or non-permit required and what tools can aid the employee when their task is within a confined space,” Davis explained.
Creating a safe environment for workers is job one for any contractor. And providing confined space training per OSHA’s standard is essential to doing that.