In the world of worker safety, confined space operations present unique and serious hazards. Pelsue has worked to make confined spaces safer for workers for over half a century. In that time, we’ve learned some essential confined space safety tips.
We are proud to engineer and manufacture equipment that keeps workers safe every single day. But even the newest, priciest, flashiest machines don’t keep workers as safe when you aren’t cultivating a culture of safety alongside your equipment to protect workers.
These are not necessarily things you can buy (though ensuring the state of your equipment through regular inspection is part of this culture). Safety culture is something you can practice anytime, anywhere—but you must also work continuously to maintain it.
While we’ll always work to make fall protection equipment better and more effective, it’s also important that we take the time to help you create a culture of safety at your workplace.
To that end, we’ve created this handy reference guide that will hopefully help your workers before, during, and after confined space operations.
Whether you print out these tips and post them on the wall, email the list to your crew, or incorporate them into your training, we hope that disseminating these confined space safety tips will make your team safer.
Safety Tips: Before You Enter a Confined Space
Create a Confined Space Safety Plan
When emergencies arise, it’s often the case that seconds count, that acting quickly and decisively makes a positive difference in outcomes. A thorough and well-practiced confined space safety plan can make responses automatic.
In a previous post, we outlined how to create your confined space safety plan. While we won’t go into nearly as much detail here, we want to highlight something very important.
Your confined space safety plans are both specific and general. Each type plays an important role in ensuring worker safety during operations.
A general confined space safety plan outlines the best practices for your team regardless of where the job takes you. It covers basic confined space safety roles, warning signs of hazards, and training & inspection requirements.
Your specific confined space safety plans, on the other hand, address the principles of your general safety plan to each workspace you encounter.
In a confined space safety plan, the work area is evaluated for its layout, environment, and potential hazards. The confined space safety plan lays out entry/exit procedures, expected hazards, nearby emergency services, and more.
Creating and distributing your confined space safety plans, both for general best practices and each specific job you take on, helps prepare your crew to act under pressure in the event of emergencies.
Inspect Your Equipment
Once you’ve evaluated the confined space your crew will be working in, you can determine the equipment you’ll be using during operations. Before deploying to the site, each item on your loadout needs a thorough visual inspection.
We’ve published an inspection walk-through in the past that goes into depth on how to inspect common pieces of confined space fall protection equipment. Refer to these checklists to ensure your critical components are ready for use.
If your inspection yields any signs of wear or damage, it should be immediately removed from service until it can be repaired or replaced. Using damaged equipment increases the danger faced by workers and violates OSHA regulations.
Maintaining a regular and exacting inspection regime well in advance of jobs will help ensure that equipment can be fixed or replaced before it’s needed in the field.
Evaluate the Confined Space On-Site
With your plan in place and your equipment ready to go, one thing remains before your crew can begin working in the confined space: inspecting the confined space.
One of the first things to do is to compare the space as outlined in your confined space plan to reality on the ground. Things in the field can be unpredictable, and you can’t include every environmental factor in your plan.
Weather, traffic, and other variables could potentially impact your rescue plan. Consider how emergency response times might be increased in a high-traffic area during a snowstorm, and how that might affect first aid preparations.
Before entering the confined space, the air inside should be sampled for hazardous gases—even if your confined space safety plan doesn’t indicate this to be a potential health issue.
Remember planning is preventive but it can’t accommodate every possible event. If you arrive at the jobsite and something doesn’t match your plan? Adjust and adapt. It could save a worker’s life.
Safety Tips: During Confined Space Work
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
As we’ve outlined in our earlier post discussing the duties of the various confined space roles, one duty shared by everyone involved in confined space operations is communication.
It can be easy in the midst of hard work to “get in the zone” and neglect checking in with everyone else on your team. It’s moments like this where maintaining communication lines is all the more crucial.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the more time you take out of your workday to communicate with your team, the better able you are to get your job done safely and efficiently.
If you’re too focused on the task at hand, you may not notice warning signs of hazards as they accumulate. This prevents early intervention and poses a danger to you and your co-workers.
Plus, the more the members of your team communicate with each other, the more they can each focus on their work, safe in the knowledge that they have each others’ backs.
Stick to the Plan
It’s important that, once operations have begun, everyone on the team adheres to the general and specific safety plans as outlined in training and modified while on site. Don’t let the temptation to cut corners jeopardize safety.
Sometimes the restrictions and practices laid out by your safety plans can seem to interfere with getting the job done quickly. If you check your gas monitor 99 times and find nothing amiss, it’s easy to neglect checking it again.
This is a common fallacy seen in everyday life. It’s the thought that, because one has come through a risky situation in the past (e.g., confined space work), it’s more likely that one will escape consequences in the future.
However, that’s not how things work in reality. If you check your gas monitor 99 times and everything is okay, that hundredth check is not guaranteed to be safe.
Don’t lapse into a false sense of security. Stick to the plan at all times.
Keep One Eye on Known Hazards
Your confined space safety plans should enumerate the known and probable safety hazards on the jobsite. Use this information during confined space operations to ensure that contained hazards remain that way.
Between entrants, attendants, and supervisors, everyone involved in confined space work should continuously monitor known hazards in order to communicate warning signs to entrants and, if necessary, extract them from the area.
Many sets of eyes are better than one, especially when different workers are at different stations with different duties. This means everyone has a different perspective and capacity to notice things that may be out of place.
Make sure entrants and attendants are routinely checking on hazards to enable action before accidents happen.
Safety Tips: After and Between Confined Space Jobs
Once your operations are through, you and your crew can begin breaking down and packing up equipment. This is a perfect opportunity to conduct another visual inspection to make sure nothing was damaged that day.
This is especially the case if a piece of equipment was used to prevent, arrest, or recover from a fall. Emergency situations put the most stress on equipment, so they’re most likely to be damaged in those situations.
But even if an emergency doesn’t arise, it’s a good idea to give your equipment a good once-over before putting it away. Since equipment is unlikely to be damaged if stored properly, this gives you a head start in tending to worn equipment.
Talk About What Could be Improved
When the work is done, you have a unique opportunity to refine your confined space safety procedures. Everyone on your team who spent time in or around the confined space should know that they can make suggestions or bring up issues.
Whether you do a formal debrief session where everyone gets a chance to say what might be improved or you just create an environment where crew are able to speak their mind, valuable information can come from these experienced voices.
Not every suggestion can be implemented, but your safety procedures can almost always be improved. Let the people on the ground lead the way in that regard.
Report and Track Incidents
Hopefully confined space work results in no incidents that rise to the level that require reporting to OSHA or other safety agencies. But that doesn’t mean some level of internal reporting isn’t important.
Keep a spreadsheet of minor incidents. Log who was involved, what happened, and anything going on at the jobsite at the time. This will help your crew to recognize patterns so they can improve training and procedures.
We hope these tips help increase awareness of best practices for confined space safety among your team. When your crew has a strong safety culture, it increases the chances that everyone gets home safe at the end of the day.
And that is our mission at Pelsue: safe workers and safer workplaces.
What constitutes a confined space?
As we’ve outlined in a previous post, the key features of a confined space are that it’s large enough for a worker to enter and operate in, is not designed for continuous occupancy, and has limited or restricted means of entry or exit.
Do confined space attendants require special training?
Absolutely. Our guide lists some of the particular skills confined space attendants need, including the ability to recognize and assess hazards quickly and competently. They must also be drilled in entry and non-entry rescues.
Training your confined space attendants is absolutely critical to effective rescues.
Should my emergency rescue team be trained in first aid?
It’s very helpful for your in-house rescue team to be trained in first aid and CPR. Though outside emergency responders can provide these services, their response times can vary and their workload is high.
Basic training in first aid can stabilize workers before help arrives, buying invaluable time for the stricken worker.
Should my confined space team consist of a certain number of people?
There’s no limit on the number of workers who can be part of your confined space team. In addition to entrant(s), you are required to have at least one attendant and supervisor. That said, the fewer entrants who can safely do the job, the better.
Evacuating a confined space with three entrants is faster and easier than evacuating one with eight. Add to that the fact that ventilation is more difficult with more entrants, and the preference is always for smaller teams.