The entry supervisor is a critical part of an effective confined space team. The title for this position, taken from OSHA 1910.146, is somewhat misleading. This individual may or may not be the supervisor of the work activities of the entrants and attendant. He or she may not even be a supervisor at all.

The key criteria for filling this role is competency. The individual should have the knowledge and skills to:

  • assess the confined space and its hazards;
  • assess the hazards the work may introduce;
  • eliminate and/or control these hazards; and
  • provide guidance to the team on conducting the entry safely.

Typically, the entry supervisor will have a combination of education, training and experience to develop this knowledge and skill.

The essential role of this individual is to provide a double-check of the preparations of the space prior to entry and the safe work practices during the entry. He or she is also involved in resolving any safety problems that occur during the entry.

Check the preparations

Space preparations should be completed by the entry team. These preparations typically include isolation of the space, atmospheric monitoring, ventilation, selection of appropriate safety equipment and potentially many other items. These preparations are then double-checked by the entry supervisor. This check is one of the most important functions of the entry supervisor.

There should, hopefully, be a trusting relationship among the entry crew and the entry supervisor. This must not be allowed to cause the entry supervisor to do a cursory check though. Trust is not the issue. People make mistakes, they forget things, they have good days and bad days, and they get distracted. The entry supervisor concept is fundamentally based on the assumption that it is less likely that two different people will forget the exact same thing on one project than one person missing something.

The entry supervisor must conduct these verifications at the space. This responsibility cannot be completed effectively without going to the space and observing the preparations directly. An extreme example of defeating this system was the maintenance manager who signed several permits on Friday afternoon and left them on his desk. His instructions to his weekend crew were to use these permits if they had to conduct any entries over the weekend. This approach completely defeats the purpose of the double-check the entry supervisor is supposed to provide.

All systems go

The entry supervisor also confirms that all members of the entry team have received training appropriate to their duties. In a small group personal knowledge of the entrants and attendants is adequate for this. In organizations with a larger group of employees it is often beneficial to issue a card indicating the training qualifications of personnel. Documented evidence of training will be particularly important for crews that work on customer sites and may have to show proof of training.

A pre-entry briefing is another responsibility of the entry supervisor. This briefing is usually short and informal. It should cover the important safety issues including hazards and what the crew has done to control them, crew communications, work practice issues, personal protective equipment, and what to do if a problem develops. Other issues may be included as needed.

The entry supervisor must confirm that whatever rescue provisions are in place are available and ready for use at the time of the entry. This does not necessarily mean that the rescue crew is standing by at the space for the entry but that they are available. For example, if an in-house rescue crew is used this may require that the supervisor confirm that sufficient personnel are on duty at the time of the entry.

Once the space and crew are completely prepared the entry supervisor signs and posts the permit. The permit should be kept near the opening to the space and available for review by any personnel associated with the job.

Be available

The entry supervisor does not need to remain at the job site after the work has begun. He or she should be available though if the entry crew needs assistance. In general, I believe elsewhere in the facility is not a problem. If the entry supervisor will need to leave the facility it is better to transfer the entry supervisor responsibilities to another qualified person that will be available at the site.

If the entry supervisor does remain at the job site they may fulfill the role of attendant in addition to their supervisor duties. If this option is used they must remain throughout the entry or get a replacement attendant if they have to leave.

If problems develop during the entry the attendant should call for the evacuation of the space. After all entrants are safely out of the space the entry supervisor is called. The role in this situation is to help the entry team figure out what the problem is, how it developed and to correct the situation. This may often involve adjusting hazard controls or modifying work procedures. After the problem has been corrected entry can again be authorized by the entry supervisor.

Back to normal

After the entry is completed the entry supervisor works with the crew to ensure that all isolation is removed and the space returned to normal operating condition. The permit is cancelled and the paperwork sent through appropriate channels. A copy of the permit must be retained for at least one year.

If the work will extend to the next shift or the entry supervisor will be leaving the facility for any other reason prior to completion of the work then arrangements should be made for another qualified entry supervisor to take over his or her responsibilities for the entry.

Performing the functions of the entry supervisor is a critical responsibility during confined space work. It is essential that the responsibility be taken seriously to be effective.

SIDEBAR: Signing the permit

What are the entry supervisor's implications of signing the confined space permit? The signature on the permit does not guarantee that nothing will go wrong. The signature is intended to confirm that the entry supervisor has performed the functions required of this task to the best of his/her ability and that he/she is satisfied that the space has been prepared according to the policy and procedures of the organization and accepted practices. It means that to the best of their ability they have prepared and will conduct as safe an entry as they know how.