Confined Spaces can be Deadly: On average 2 workers won’t come home this week

(FOREST GROVE, Ore.) Fire officials say one person died and a second was successfully rescued today, after they became trapped in the confined space of an underground manhole on NW Timmerman Road west of Forest Grove. This recent headline could have been taken from just about any newspaper during any given week around the country in 2009. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program, fatal injuries in confined spaces averages 92 fatalities per year. Thats almost two per week. According to OSHA, over 4.8 million confined space entries are made every year in the United States, and over 11,000 injuries that occur could be prevented if employers and workers had simply follow the procedures outlined under 29 CFR 1910. 146.

The causes of most confine space entry incidents are simple; employers and workers fail to recognize and control the hazards associated with confined spaces, and they conduct inadequate or incorrect emergency response, resulting in the death of the initial entrant, the would-be rescuer or both. Pre-planning for confined space entry should include all parties involved and should serve the purpose of reviewing entry procedures as well as covering specific hazards inherent to the spaces being entered.

Confined spaces can be deadly because of the potential for engulfment, oxygen deficiency, oxygen enrichment, flammable gases or vapors, combustible dusts, toxic substances and other physical hazards. Other health hazards that could impact employee safety include electrical equipment, mechanical equipment, poor visibility, biohazards, claustrophobia, noise, radiation and temperature.

The following is based on the CDCs: Recommendations for Preventing Occupational Fatalities in Confined Spaces:

Worker training is essential to the RECOGNITION of what constitutes a confined space and the hazards that may be encountered in them. This training should stress that death to the worker is the likely outcome if proper precautions are not taken before entry is made.

All confined spaces should be TESTED by a qualified person before entry to determine whether the confined space atmosphere is safe for entry. Tests should be made for oxygen level, flammability, and known or suspected toxic substances. EVALUATION of the confined space should consider the following:

  • methods for isolating the space by mechanical or electrical means (i.e., double block and bleed, lockout, etc.),
  • the institution of lockout-tagout procedures,
  • ventilation of the space,
  • cleaning and/or purging,
  • work procedures, including use of safety lines attached to the person working in the confined space and its use by a standby person if trouble develops,
  • personal protective equipment required (clothing, respirator, boots, etc.),
  • special tools required, and
  • communications system to be used.

The confined space should be continuously MONITORED to determine whether the sphere has changed due to the work being performed.

Be safe and, this Holiday Season, make sure you and ALL of your co-workers and employees make it home alive and safe every day!

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