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May 21, 2007
Confined Spaces: Where Training Can Make the Difference Between Life and Death

Confined spaces are dangerous places. They often contain numerous hazards--some potentially fatal. That's why everyone associated with a confined space entry has to be properly trained and work together to make sure the workers who go in come out safely.

Bring them back alive. Authorized entrants are the ones at risk from the moment they step inside a confined space until they exit. They must be trained to:

  • Identify confined space hazards and the potential consequences of those hazards to their safety and health.
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of dangerous exposures.
  • Operate any equipment necessary to test, monitor, and ventilate the atmosphere in a confined space; communicate with others working inside and outside the space; and protect themselves from exposure to hazards.
  • Wear a harness attached to a retrieval line (or when appropriate, wristlets) to allow for a speedy rescue in an emergency. (Of course, entrants generally also need to wear other personal protective equipment, such as a hard hat, eye protection, and protective clothing.)
  • Remain in contact with the attendant outside the space, alerting the attendant immediately to any signs of exposure or other danger in the space.
  • Know how to leave the space quickly and safely after identifying a problem or getting a signal or order from the attendant or entry supervisor to evacuate.

Make sure they understand their job is serious. Attendants must remain just outside a confined space during the entire entry operation to monitor and protect the entrant. Attendants must be trained to:

  • Identify the hazards of the space, the consequences of exposure, and the signs and symptoms of exposure.
  • Maintain an accurate count of authorized entrants and know who is in the space.
  • Remain in constant contact with workers in the space.
  • Monitor activities that could affect the safety of entrants inside and outside the space.
  • Order entrants to evacuate immediately if conditions inside or outside the space could endanger entrants, if a worker in the space shows signs of dangerous exposure, or if the attendant can't safely and effectively perform his or her duties.
  • Summon rescue services when necessary or perform nonentry rescues when authorized and practical. (Nonentry rescue might, for example, involve using a retrieval line and winch to pull out entrants in trouble.)
  • Keep unauthorized people away from the space and alert the entry supervisor if any such people enter the permit area.
Why It Matters...

Your confined space entrants could face life-threatening hazards such as:

  • Flammable gas, vapor, mist, or dust at levels high enough to cause a fire or explosion
  • Toxic, gas, vapor, mist, or dust at levels high enough to cause illness or death if inhaled
  • Oxygen levels below what you need to breathe, causing suffocation
  • Liquids or flowing solids (e.g., sand) that could cover, bury, or smother
  • Entrapping design (e.g., walls that curve in, floors that slope and taper down)
  • Heat high enough to cause exhaustion or heatstroke
  • Falls caused by damp floors, slippery handholds, or entrapping spaces
  • Noise that could damage hearing or make it hard to hear directions or warnings
  • Energy and/or equipment that could cause electrocution, fire, or explosion

Attendants should never:

  • Leave their post even for a moment (if they need a break, another trained attendant must take their place).
  • Enter the space for any reason (including an attempt to rescue entrants).

Select and train them very carefully! Entry supervisors are responsible for the overall entry operation. They must be trained to:

  • Understand and be able to identify confined space hazards and communicate these to entrants and attendants.
  • Recognize the signs and consequences of dangerous exposures and describe these to entrants and attendants.
  • Make sure the entry permit is complete and that listed tests and hazard removal/controls have been completed; listed procedures are followed; listed safety, communications, and rescue equipment is in place; and rescue services are available.
  • Sign, date, and post the permit outside the confined space.
  • Make sure no one enters the space until the supervisor has determined it to be safe and has posted the permit.
  • Remove unauthorized people from the permit area when alerted by an attendant.
  • Cancel the entry and the permit when operations are complete and all entrants are accounted for. (A permit should also be canceled if a dangerous condition arises and entrants have to be evacuated.)
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