Staying safe in tight spaces

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes a confined space as an area that has few or limited openings for entry and exit, limited natural ventilation and is not intended for prolonged periods of occupancy. Confined spaces include mines, compartments of ships and other vessels, ventilation ducts, sewers and storage spaces, among many others.

While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has attempted the educate the public on past confined-space fatalities through a series of investigations since the 1980s, the year 2000 saw a spike in the number of reported fatalities to 91. Employers may want to educate workers on how to recognize the dangers small spaces impose. 

Air quality consideration is crucial to workplace safety. One of the most dangerous aspects of confined spaces is limited oxygen flow. “Safety in Confined Spaces,” a guide from the CDC, NIOSH and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states that oxygen levels can decrease in limited spaces depending on the work being done or the chemicals being used. Oxygen can also be displaced by other gases, such as carbon dioxide, which is fatal. Employers may want to ensure all workers who enter an atmosphere with an oxygen level lower than 19.5 percent wear a self-contained breathing apparatus.

Flammable atmospheres also present severe dangers, according to the publication. An atmosphere’s flammability is determined by the oxygen in the air, as well as the presence of gases, vapor or dust. Arizona business owners can create a ventilation system that will keep the oxygen levels at an average level of 19.5 percent to protect employees who must enter the space. Another air quality danger is the atmosphere’s toxicity, which is determined by what is used or made in the space, as well as the type of work required to make it. Air quality also varies depending on location in the confined space. Employers are required by law to acquire a permit before entering confined spaces and use measuring instruments to ensure everyone’s safety.

While air quality can be deadly, workers and employers must also be aware of other dangers in confined spaces, such as falling objects. Arizona business owners should provide their staff with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), such as helmets and eyewear. Another source of injury includes wet or slippery surfaces. There should always be someone on standby outside of the enclosure, commonly called an attendant, who is trained in CPR and first aid, and who stays in constant communication with workers inside the space.

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