Working in Confined Space Locations Requires Training And Procedures

Confined space locations are hazardous to workers if they are not trained and there are no stated procedures.Confined space locations are rapidly growing as one of the major causes of occupational injury and death. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a confined space refers to a space which by design has limited openings for entry and exit and unfavorable natural ventilation which could contain or produce dangerous air contaminants. Confined space locations are not intended for continuous employee occupancy. Examples of confined spaces include manholes, sewers, boilers, tunnels, pipelines, storage tanks, and tank cars.


Confined Space Locations and Permits

Some confined space locations require a permit. The Oklahoma State University Environmental Health and Safety Manual describes a permit confined space as a confined space that is potentially hazardous. The manual also states permit required confined spaces have the following characteristics:

  • Contains or has a potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
  • Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant.
  • Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard. Examples of serious safety or health hazards might include fall hazards, unguarded machinery, extreme heat or cold, steam pipes or chemical lines, electrical hazards, presence of asbestos, hazardous noise levels.

Most confined space location accidents are caused by workers failing to recognize the hazards associated with the job. During the four year period between 2005-2009, The U.S. Department of Labor reported 481 permit required confined space fatalities. This number does not include related serious injuries or illness. Approximately 61% of the 481 fatalities involved construction workers. During this same 2005-2009 time period, the leading cause of deaths related to confined spaces was physical hazards. According to the University of California Davis’s Safety Services Department, general physical hazards construction workers may encounter include the following:

  • The possibility of drowning or being trapped by flooding water while working in a storm sewer or wet-well.
  • Pipes, valves, and lines carrying harmful substances such as steam, natural gas, and electricity that can rupture while being worked on or activated if not locked out.
  • Loud noises reverberating from the use of hammers or hydraulic equipment.
  • Exposure to temperature extremes during work activities.
  • Slips and falls on wet or damaged walking or climbing surfaces.
  • Exposure to corrosive substances that could irritate unprotected skin.
  • Exposure to rodents, vermin, and other pests living in the area.
  • Accidental activation of hazardous equipment while it is being repaired.
  • Engulfment.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Pandrol USA of Bridgeport, New Jersey with twenty serious violations. Some of these violations were confined space locations hazards including noise exposure and failing to develop and implement a confined space program. Pandrol USA’s proposed penalties total $283,500.

As with most construction job tasks, incidents and fatalities from working in confined space locations can be eliminated with proper training and education. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  pubhas an abundance of training materials and resources available on its website, In addition, the resources below may be beneficial to construction professionals seeking more information on working in confined spaces.

Oklahoma State University’s Environmental Safety and Health Manual

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

State of California Department of Industrial Relations