By Darin Perkins, CAP Environmental, Health & Safety Manager
What do pipelines, vaults, tanks, and manholes have in common? First, they are a few of the confined spaces found within the CAP system. Second, performing work in them can be extremely dangerous.
Confined spaces are only one of a variety of hazards CAP employees face on the job, but one of the most common locations employees perform work. So, what exactly is a confined space? It is any space that meets all three of the following criteria:
- It is large enough for an employee to enter and perform work,
- It has limited or restricted means of entry or exit, and
- It is not designed for continuous occupancy.
Every confined space at CAP is presumed to be a permit-required confined space until proven otherwise, a safety-first practice that goes beyond what is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A permit-required confined space is a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics:
- It contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere.
- It has material that has the potential to engulf an entrant.
- It has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant; or
- It contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery or exposed live electrical wires.
Because safety is a priority at CAP, prior to entry into a confined space, employees must identify potential hazards within the space and ensure those hazards are eliminated or controlled. The approach can be different for each confined space, depending on its location and characteristics.
Special instruments can be used to test the atmosphere inside the space to ensure it does not present a breathing hazard. In some spaces, physical locks are used to ensure water does not intrude into the space and engulf entrants. In others, fall protection harnesses and other protective equipment is used to protect employees from potential falls.
No matter what space is being entered or how many times it has been entered in the past, these assessment and control measures are required for every space. Complacency is a silent killer and becoming comfortable with a particular confined space – assuming no hazard is present because no hazards have been present in the past – can be a deadly mistake.