Confined Concerns: What are the Dangers of Working in a “Confined Space”?

Some of us sit in small cubicles on a daily basis, but, as much as we may disagree, these popular office features don’t actually fit the definition of a “confined space.” At least not in terms of industrial safety and emergency response.

CTEH-Kirsten Eganhouse

Kirsten Eganhouse, CIH, CSP

“OSHA defines ‘confined space’ as areas large enough for you to bodily enter and perform work, but are not designed  for continuous occupancy and have limited entry options,” explains Kirsten Eganhouse, a Certified Industrial Hygienist and Certified Safety Professional with CTEH®. “This could include anything from a dumpster with a flip-top lid to rail cars and industrial tanks.”

Confined space example

Eganhouse says that ‘confined space’ issues are a concern for a variety of industries, from railroad and transportation to petrochemical. In the chemical or petrochemical industries, for example, maintenance work is frequently conducted inside large equipment that, when operating, contains hydrocarbons. This raises several issues for workers that must enter the machinery: Could a fire break out? Will there be chemical exposure? Could it be a low-oxygen environment? Could something trap or injure them once inside?

“All equipment needs to be inspected and repaired occasionally and that means workers can face a variety of confined space dangers,” Eganhouse says. “Sometimes welding is necessary and that can be hazardous because applying heat to certain degreasers can create a dangerous gas. In certain situations, there may be a build-up of carbon monoxide if there isn’t enough ventilation.”

Eganhouse, who has years of experience with confined space operations, points out that maintenance workers should have a solid understanding of confined space dangers before entering. In addition, the outside support team must be well-trained and prepared for anything.

In our next post, Eganhouse will explain how she and other CTEH® professionals help companies prepare for and prevent confined space accidents.