Toolbox Topic: Confined Space
Confined spaces can be dangerous places. Today, we’ll discuss some safe practices to keep in mind when working in a confined space.
Definitions and Standard
(1) Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work; and
(2) Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit (for example, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, and pits are spaces that may have limited means of entry.); and
(3) Is not designed for continuous employee occupancy.
Or, to put it simply, a confined space has limited access and is not designed for people to occupy. These spaces are large enough for workers to enter and perform inspections, maintenance, or repairs. Examples can include:
- Storage bins
- Equipment housings
Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians
Aqueducts are artificially constructed channels designed to carry water far from its source. They have been used all over the globe and throughout human history. The ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians used aqueducts.
In the 7th century B.C., the Assyrians built a 50-mile long limestone aqueduct to carry water to the capital city.
On the island of Samos, a tunnel was constructed around 538 BC. The underground aqueduct provided fresh water for nearly a thousand years.
The Romans built aqueducts all over the Roman Empire. These systems provided fresh water for drinking and bathing. In the city of Rome, they were vast and extended over 250 miles.
John D Rockefeller The Oil Tycoon
In early American history, pipelines would find a new use.
In 1867 William Rockefeller Jr brought his brother, John D Rockefeller, into the oil business. John would apply his work ethic and efficiency to control costs. By borrowing and reinvesting profits, the company would quickly expand. By 1870, Rockefeller would abolish the partnership and form Standard Oil.
Standard Oil’s refineries were soon at capacity, and Rockefeller needed to find an inexpensive way to move his products. So, he strikes up an exclusive deal with Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Rockefeller agrees to use Vanderbilt’s trains to move his product at deeply discounted rates. In return, Rockefeller promised to fill every one of Vanderbilt’s trains. But, there is a big problem: The current capacity of Standard Oil is currently only about half of what’s needed.
Rockefeller has put himself in a tight spot, but he sees a way forward. He believes kerosene, a derivative of oil, is a huge market opportunity. At the time, poor-quality kerosene was known to cause house fires. Rockefeller thinks that he can capture the market with high-quality kerosene. He convinces some investors to back his play, and it works. He became the country’s largest producer of refined kerosene.
Rockefeller’s strategy works almost too well. He now produces more oil than Vanderbilt’s trains could possibly transport. Rockefeller would go to Vanderbilt’s biggest competitor, Tom Scott, to move more products. A deal is made, and Tom Scott’s railroad starts moving Standard Oil products.
Rockefeller used all these profits to buy up other oil companies. At just 33 years of age, Rockefeller controlled 90% of the oil market.
Vanderbilt isn’t happy with losing business to Tom Scott. He convinces Scott to form a partnership. Together, they revoke Rockefeller’s discounted shipping rates. This move is a devastating blow, and it seems Rockefeller is backed into a corner, but he has an idea. He’ll find a way to move his oil around the railroad tycoons. He’ll build a pipeline.
This innovation created a new era in pipeline use. With the development of the automobile, the oil industry would only continue to grow. Today, there are more than 2 million miles of pipelines worldwide.
From 2011 to 2018, there were a total of 1,030 deaths due to confined spaces. The confined space types with the most deaths, tanks, bins, and vat interiors, accounted for 205 deaths only, followed by ditches, channels, trenches, and excavations at 203.
Falls to a lower level accounted for 156 deaths during this period. There were 126 cases of inhalation of a harmful substance. The most common inhaled gases were hydrogen sulfide (38 points), carbon monoxide (23), and methane (10). In addition, there were 39 cases of depleted oxygen and 21 cases of drowning. Fires and explosions accounted for 58 cases.
Occupations having the highest fatality rates in confined spaces were construction, agricultural farming, steamfitters, pipefitters, and plumbers.
Safety Tip#1 PPE
Determine the proper Personal Protective Equipment needed to enter the confined space safely. Always wear respirators when and where required.
Before entry, follow appropriate guidelines for checking confined space atmospheres. Ensure that adequate atmospheric testing and monitoring are being conducted.
Tip#3 Permit-Required Confined Space
If it is a permit-required space, make sure you obtain a permit before starting work and that it is posted.
If the confined space is classified as hazardous, there must be an attendant. Attendants must perform all their duties without compromising the safety of any entrants. In other words, if you are an attendant, pay attention and be alert. Distractions could be the difference between life and death.
Continued communication among entrants, attendants, and supervisors is essential. Workers inside the space must be able to communicate with one another and the attendant at all times. And remember, become familiar with and test all communications equipment before entry.
Never rush to the aid of a fellow employee in a confined space. All workers in a confined space must work with a lifeline attached outside the space. All rescuers must be competent using rescue equipment and self-contained breathing units.