We are circling back to finish our discussion of safety rules for confined spaces. As we said in our Oct. 10 post, confined spaces are inherently dangerous, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns employers to take the appropriate safeguards for their workers. A permit-required space, however, is one that poses a greater risk to the worker, a serious risk of entrapment or incapacitation, injury or death. If a worker cannot leave the space quickly in an emergency, that is a permit space.
Once the employer is aware of the risk and the specific nature of the risk — toxic fumes, for example, or roof collapse — the planning begins. If risks cannot be mitigated, the employer must develop a procedure or take other measures to ensure that the worker is safe while entering, working in and exiting the permit space. Employers should also ensure that the space is off-limits to anyone who is not authorized or trained on safety measures.
No safety measure is effective if no one knows about it. No safety procedure works if no one knows what it is. It is vital that workers and their teams receive training on every safety measure. They must know the what, why, where, when and how of safety equipment and emergency procedures.
The training may have to involve workers that will work in the area where the permit space is located. OSHA makes it clear, too, that an employer and its employees must understand which regulations apply to the different components of a site. A pipe running through an open trench would be a permit space, but the trench would not be.
The entry permit must be signed by the entry supervisor and posted near the entrance to the confined space. The permit must include information about testing, safety measures taken, emergency contacts and other key information about the space. When the work is completed, the supervisor must cancel the permit and keep it on file for one year. Any changes to the space or safety measures will require a new permit and cancellation of the old one.
Workers should be just as aware of the rules governing permit spaces as their employers. It is the workers’ lives that are at risk, and it is vitally important that they understand their responsibilities and their employer’s responsibilities.
Source: Occupational Health and Safety Administration Protecting Construction Workers in Confined Spaces: Small Entity Compliance Guide, Protecting Construction Workers in Confined Spaces: Small Entity Compliance Guide, OSHA Publication 3825-09, September 2015