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What is a 'permit space'?

Those of us who feel a little anxious in a crowded elevator generally have one of two reactions to people whose jobs put them in tight spaces: Those workers are either very brave or just downright crazy. We know that we are statistically safe from, say, running out of air before we reach the 10th floor, but we are still anxious. We can't even imagine having to face this kind of hazard on a daily basis.

What made us think of this was the recent release of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's Small Entity Compliance Guide. The guide is designed to help employers implement the confined spaces regulation that went into effect in early August, but workers would do well to review it, too. Workers should know if their employers are watching out for their safety, especially after a new rule is involved.

OSHA defines a confined space as "a space whose configuration and/or contents may present special dangers not found in normal work areas." Those dangers are generally the result of poor ventilation and the lack of oxygen or buildup of toxic gases that come with poor ventilation. Without proper air flow, too, fumes from flammable liquids -- the use of which may be necessary to complete the job -- may explode. There is also the risk that a worker in a confined space will be in close proximity to mechanical and electrical hazards.

Perhaps the most ominous warning in the compliance guide involves the risk to rescue workers. When workers in confined spaces are injured or in danger of injury, rescuers may not have the proper safety equipment, or they may not have had the proper training. According to OSHA, the rescue attempt has proved fatal to the rescuer on more than one occasion.

What makes a confined space a "permit space"? We'll explain in our next post.

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