Confined Space: Deadly If Not Prepared

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | April 2010 Vol. 65 No. 4

One of the most dangerous aspects of underground construction is working in closely confined spaces as manholes, underground vaults, sewer pipes, tunnels and pipes, other enclosed areas and open excavations more than four feet deep.

Working in confined spaces is not a job for everyone and anyone who is subject to claustrophobia shouldn’t even consider such a job. Those who do work in the tight underground environment must be thoroughly trained in following confined space safety procedures and have the discipline to strictly follow safety guidelines.

“Employees working in confined spaces are at risk each time they enter a Permit Required Space to perform work,” says Kirby Lastinger, operations manager of Rescuers LLC, Lakeland, FL. “In confined spaces what you can’t see, feel and smell can injure or kill you. Workers can get a false sense of security by using their senses, and not seeing, smelling or feeling any hazards. Following sound safety practices is essential when working in confined spaces and allows a worker to perform the work safely and, at the end of the work day, go home to their family and friends.”

Lastinger has more than 25 years rescue experience with the Lakeland Fire Department and has extensive experience as a consultant and trainer. He formed RescuePros in 2008 that provides confined space safety and consulting services to a wide range of industries and government agencies. He conducted a confined space safety program during the Damage Prevention & Safety Conference at the 2010 UCT show in Tampa last January.

Lastinger says rules applying to confined spaces require training and instruction for workers who enter permit-required confined spaces. Most states follow OSHA standards, but some may have additional requirements making in necessary to check with authorities in the state where a project is located.

OSHA 1926.21(b)(6)(ii) defines confined or enclosed space as any space having a limited means of egress, which is subject to the accumulation of toxic or flammable contaminants or has an oxygen deficient atmosphere, says Lastinger. Confined or enclosed spaces include, but are not limited to, storage tanks, process vessels, bins, boilers, ventilation or exhaust ducts, sewers, underground utility vaults, tunnels, pipelines, and open top spaces more than four-feet deep such as pits, tubs, vaults and vessels.

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