Confined space hazards are dangers that can arise from working in small, cramped spaces. These hazards are usually defined by labor and safety regulations that can vary from one country to another. In the US, the responsible governing body is often the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Confined spaces are typically defined as having limited means of ingress or egress, and are not designed for people to regularly inhabit, while still being large enough to enter and work inside. Various confined space hazards can be associated with these working conditions, so specific precautions are often taken.
Different confined space hazards can be associated with each type of space. In order for a space to be considered hazardous, it must typically conform to certain criteria. Confined spaces that contain dangerous atmospheres are typically considered hazardous, as are those where toxic fumes may build up. Another confined space hazard can be associated with engulfment, which involves a space that contains or is surrounded by a loose material that could bury a worker. Downward sloping floors and narrow passages can also be known as confined space hazards.
Spaces are often treated differently between industries, so an area might be considered hazardous in one context and not in another. In situations where a confined space is considered hazardous, special permitting may be required in order for workers to enter. Workers in the US typically must obtain a permit from OSHA before entering an area associated with confined space hazards. In this case, OSHA defines the hazards and also issues the permits required to work in close proximity to them.
The risk of injury or death is often associated with working around confined space hazards. Governments tend to enact strict regulations due to the fact that a number of people tend to die every year when working in proximity to these hazards. Around 100 deaths in the US may be associated with confined space hazards each year.
In some cases, a confined space may receive a certification as not being hazardous. A work site may have a supervisor that has received specific training and is certified by OSHA to determine whether hazards are present. If this supervisor certifies that the atmosphere of a space is non-hazardous, then it may be possible for workers to enter without any sort of breathing apparatus. Similar certifications may also exist in other settings, such as the United States Navy, where the person capable of making such judgments may be known as a gas-free engineer.