Stopping the domino effect in confined spaces

February 28, 2003
/ Print / Reprints /
ShareMore
/ Text Size+
When an oil-well service company employee went to check the fluid level in an oil storage tank, he climbed in without a confined space permit, a monitor or any protective equipment. At the time, liquid nitrogen was being inserted under pressure into the well to force the oil into the tank. Unknown to the worker, the liquid nitrogen had turned into a deadly vapor in the tank.

He became dizzy and passed out, falling off the ladder to the bottom of the tank, where he drowned. His supervisor, noticing the employee was missing, climbed into the tank to look for him, succumbed to the same poisonous vapors and also died.

This is a recurring problem with confined spaces - the lives of not only the original entrants but also the rescuers are lost. Employees, and sometimes supervisors, fail to recognize that using hazardous chemicals in a confined space, where they can become lethal, is far different than working with them in an open room.

Here are seven rules to follow to help ensure that the "domino effect" in confined space tragedies is avoided:

1) A strong crew

A highly trained response crew is the essential element in a safe entry of a confined space. They should all know the confined spaces that have been identified in the workplace.

2) Post a permit

If the confined space contains potential hazards, such as toxic vapors, OSHA regs require that a permit be issued and posted outside of the space before anyone enters. The permit lists the hazards found in the space, the measures used to eliminate or control them, and the rescue services and communication systems to be used.

3) Test the air

Before entering a confined space, conduct atmospheric testing. Be sure that there is enough oxygen to breathe (at least 19.5 percent of the air), and be wary of a combustible atmosphere. Vapors from flammable chemicals such as solvents can build up and become explosive. Toxic chemicals may be present and are deadly at certain levels.

Employees should know how to use, maintain and calibrate test monitors. If there is a problem in the air, ventilate the area.

4) List of precautions

Workers must take these other precautions:

  • Alert the rescue team and set up rescue equipment.
  • Make sure a co-worker is immediately outside the space and in direct communication with the employee. The co-worker cannot leave this post and should have a lifeline or harness to pull the employee out in case of trouble.
  • Lockout or tagout any equipment that may affect the space.
  • Ventilate the area continuously and constantly test the atmosphere.
  • Use only grounded, explosion-proof tools and equipment in the space.
  • Tell workers to leave the space immediately if they feel weak or nauseous.


5) Dress for success

Everyone should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), depending on the type of confined space and the hazards anticipated. When toxic gases are present or there is a lack of oxygen, entrants should use an appropriate respirator.

6) Emergency plan

Have an emergency plan in place so that rescuers know their roles. Have equipment on hand, such as tripods and winches, that can pull an employee out of danger without putting a rescuer in jeopardy.

7) Paper trail

In addition to posting your entry permit outside the space, also post danger signs warning others to stay out. OSHA requires that once the job is over, the cancelled permit be kept on file for at least one year. You will also need to keep a written certification that your employees have been trained in confined space safety procedures.

Originally written for Business & Legal Reports by freelance editor Marcia Wagshol, who contributes regularly to BLR's OSHA Required Training for Supervisors and BLR's Monthly Reminder. Marcia has also written for Ransom & Benjamin Publishers and Business Research Publications.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to ISHN.

You must login or register in order to post a comment.

STAY CONNECTED

Facebook logo Twitter YouTubeLinkedIn Google + icon

Multimedia

Videos

Image Galleries

ASSE Safety 2014 Review

A gallery of photos from the sprawling Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, where ASSE’s annual professional development conference was held June 8-11. All photos courtesy of the American Society of Safety Engineers.

9/30/14 2:00 pm EST

Leveraging Sustainability Initiatives to Benefit Your Community and Increase Compliance

This webinar will review how General Motors' Sustainability initiatives are being leveraged to improve the community and the environment, create efficient energy programs, improve sustainability tracking, impact on processes and overall reporting and improve overall social, environmental and corporate sustainability.

ISHN Magazine

ISHN SEPTEMBER 2014 COVER

2014 September

ISHN'S September issue features a series of essay on thought leadership. Get expert advice on self-motivation, compliance and more!

Table Of Contents Subscribe

THE ISHN STORE

M:\General Shared\__AEC Store Katie Z\AEC Store\Images\ISHN\safetyfourth.jpg
Safety Engineering, 4th Edition

A practical, solutions-driven reference, Safety Engineering, 4th edition, has been completely revised and updated to reflect many of today’s issues in safety.

More Products

For Distributors Only - SEPTEMBER 2014

ISHN FDO SEPTEMBER 2014For Distributors Only is ISHN's niche brand standard-sized magazine supplement aimed at an audience of 2,000 U.S. distributors that sell safety products. Circulation only goes to distributors. CHECK OUT THE SEPTEMBER 2014 ISSUE OF FDO HERE

ishn infographics

2012 US workplace deathsCheck out ISHN's new Infographic page! Learn more about worker safety through these interactive images. CLICK HERE to view the page.