3 Hazards That Make Confined Spaces Dangerous

3 Hazards That Make Confined Spaces Dangerous

As OSHA[1] recently launched several Regional Emphasis Programs to reduce injuries, illnesses, and fatalities among workers involved in transportation tank cleaning operations, it’s worth remembering what confined space health hazards are and how they can be mitigated.

OSHA’s definition of a confined space[2] covers workplaces that are not designed for continuous human occupancy due to the workspaces’ small sizes, but large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs that are difficult to enter and exit.

Confined spaces include chemical tanks, silos, tunnels, manholes, pipelines, and crawlspaces and may be encountered in virtually any industry. The latest OSHA Regional Emphasis Programs target specifically worksites in the business of cleaning, repair and maintaining transportation tanks in industries like freight trucking, rail and road transportation, or waste management.

Transportation tanks are used to carry chemicals, diesel fuel, ethanol, and other products, like water and food. The hazards associated with transportation tank cleaning operations include fires, explosions, electrical, chemical hazards, and confined spaces, among others.

Tank cleaning operations pose a significant threat, as workers can become incapacitated or unable to exit from the confined space inside the tank.

Confined space health hazards for workers doing the tank cleaning can include:

·       Exposure to harmful gases and chemicals

·       Respiratory system problems

·       Slips, trips, and falls

Although workers carrying out various tasks in confined spaces encounter hazards that may be present in any workplace, what makes confined spaces especially dangerous is the fact that entry and exit are limited.

Imagine, for example, that a worker needs to exit a confined space quickly, either because he has suffered an injury, the space is flooding, or it is filling with a hazardous gas. If the worker’s emergency exit is impeded by a ladder, or he must duck under pipes to get out, or has inhaled a lot of gas trying to pry open a hatch, then there is a greater potential for injuries, illness, or even death.

Hazards that can normally be mitigated by simply exiting the affected area can become deadly in a matter of minutes if the worker can’t get away fast enough. This is why there is no one-fits-all recipe for confined spaces safety. However, managing the risks associated with working in a confined space can be done through:

·       a thorough hazard assessment for each confined space 

·       work protocols identifying entry and exit barriers, ventilation systems, rescue procedures, information regarding required PPE (for example, harnesses, lifelines, or lifting equipment)

·       regular assessments of the confined space to ensure ventilation is functioning and there is no build-up of poisonous gases or substances

Take for example, the risk of slips, trips, and falls in confined spaces. These incidents happen when workers lose grip while climbing a wet or greasy ladder, or lose their balance on unstable structures, such as old ladders, or maybe try to exit the space in a hurry and trip on tools and objects strewn in the space.

There are a number of tools designed especially for confined space entry, exit, and retrieval, like the Honeywell Miller® DuraHoist™ Portable Confined Space System. Its modular design allows the use of various fixed and portable bases and an optional mast with extensions, as well as winches and/or lifeline systems.

The Honeywell Miller® MightEvac™ has a quick-activating retrieval mechanism for emergency evacuation, which allows quick and easy rescue at an average speed of 25-ft. [7.6 m] per minute.

Workers entering confined spaces can stay safe and comfortable with the Honeywell Miller® AirCore™ Tower Climbing Harness, especially designed for physically demanding jobs.

To find out more about Honeywell’s professional training services and extensive selection of fall protection equipment, go to https://safety-training.honeywell.com/.


[1]https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/OPA/newsreleases/2021/08/ OSHA20211182%20Reg%20V%20Tank%20Cleaning%20Operations% 20REP%20Final%20digital.sign_.pdf

[2] https://www.osha.gov/confined-spaces


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