Confined spaces in construction are a potentially hazardous but unavoidable part of the job. Confined spaces can be large or small and come in any shape,1 but they must meet three OSHA criteria: “work areas that (1) are large enough for an employee to enter;  (2) have limited means of entry or exit; and (3) are not designed for continuous occupancy.”2 Examples include tanks, sewers, pipelines, manholes, crawl spaces, furnaces or boilers, and mixers.1,2 To optimize safety, anyone working in the construction industry should treat any unknown area as a potential confined space.2

Work in confined spaces carries risks like physical and atmospheric hazards and “toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions, and asphyxiation.”1,2 (When hazards are identified in advance, that space is a permit space, meaning it is a known hazardous environment.1) With the right preparation and training, though, the danger of confined space hazards can be reduced.2

What does training involve?

OSHA’s 1993 confined space standard protected general industry workers.3 In 2015, OSHA set a construction-specific standard due to unique confined space hazards and spaces subject to constant flux within construction sites .3,4

OSHA mandates that industrial hygienists or other health and safety experts provide training and equipment for those working in confined spaces before entry.1 Entrants and attendants must show comprehension, knowledge, and skill as a result of training.5

Training prior to confined space entry involves all members of the team.1 Anyone in charge of authorizing entry must be aware of everything inside the space including any hazards. Authorizing individuals must ensure all workers know what awaits them inside as well as their specific duties. Attendants, supervisors, and the rescue team all must be trained along with any worker entering the confined space.

Training must be complimentary to workers; presented in a language and vocabulary level each worker understands; and documented.5

Entrant training

Employers are responsible for training confined space entrants to:1

  • Recognize hazards.
  • Communicate with attendants beyond the designated confined space.
  • Recognize and alert attendants to warning signs of risk.
  • Use appropriate PPE and instruments and know where to obtain and how to use equipment.
  • Know self-rescue techniques.

Attendant training

Attendants stationed outside the confined space must be trained in their role. All confined space workers also must receive training on attendants’ responsibilities. Attendants need to:

  • Keep an accurate count of number of entrants.
  • Identify hazards, and monitor conditions.
  • Oversee and coordinate rescues.
  • Maintain constant communication during entry and when ordering evacuation if workers encounter conditions not covered by the entry permit; workers’ behaviour changes; workers cannot control a hazard; outside conditions could harm entrants; or the attendant must leave to tend to an emergency at another site he or she monitors.
  • Permit only authorized personnel to enter.

If company procedure allows, attendants may take part in rescues that do not involve entry, but they can never enter confined space work areas.

General training

With the exception of rescue personnel, all other workers are trained on the risks of helping to rescue a team member themselves.6 More than half of deaths related to confined spaces occur among people entering to rescue a member of their team.7