What Is Confined Space Safety?

Dan Cavallari

A confined space is a term used to describe any space in which permanent or long-term inhabitation is not intended or recommended. This condition usually occurs in construction or industrial settings, and confined space safety techniques must be employed to ensure workers are not put in undue danger. Certain regulating bodies often outline the techniques that must be used to ensure confined space safety, and such regulations can vary by region or country. Workers may need to be trained to work in such spaces, earning a certificate that qualifies them to enter a confined area.

Confined space safety may involve wearing protective equipment such as hard hats.
Confined space safety may involve wearing protective equipment such as hard hats.

Tunnels, sewer systems, ditches, and even septic tanks will be considered confined spaces in which confined space safety techniques must be used. If the confined space contains hazardous materials, the person entering that space will often be required to carry a gas detector and wear protective equipment such as sanitary suits, goggles, gas masks, and hard hats. Before that person can enter the space, confined space safety dictates that all participants must be clearly designated and permits are acquired. At least one person will be stationed outside the confined space, the entrant must be defined and he must be the only person to enter the space, and rescue plans must be developed should an accident occur.

Protective safety equipment, such as safety goggles, should be worn in a confined space setting.
Protective safety equipment, such as safety goggles, should be worn in a confined space setting.

Air quality is generally one of the primary concerns of confined space safety. In many cases, the air quality of a particular space must be analyzed before a person is allowed to enter it. Gas can build up in the space, a lack of oxygen can affect a person's ability to work for long periods of time in a space, and air movement or a lack thereof can affect the overall safety of the space. If an air exchanger is used, it must be noted on permits; oxygen should not be pumped into a space in lieu of fresh air, as this can increase the likelihood of a fire or explosion.

Confined space safety techniques must be used in sewer systems and septic tanks.
Confined space safety techniques must be used in sewer systems and septic tanks.

Cave-ins and floods can be extreme dangers associated with confined space safety. If pipes run through the confined space or feed liquids into that space, they must be shut off and completely blocked off before a person is permitted to enter the space. Cave-ins can be prevented with braces and other safety equipment, though the risk of a cave-in is always present in some confined spaces. The entry of the space needs to be large enough for a person loaded with equipment to pass through easily.

Sanitation workers are required to have confined space training.
Sanitation workers are required to have confined space training.
Confined space safety is important for people who are working in mines.
Confined space safety is important for people who are working in mines.

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