While there are many potential hazards when working in oil and gas, confined spaces have their own unique safety considerations. It is critical that workers understand what these special considerations are, in what circumstances they become immediate dangers, and how and when safety precautions should be taken. Even those who never set foot on a rig or near a pipeline need to be aware of safety requirements, which can impact everything from budgets to marketing to data analysis.
What are confined spaces?
Confined spaces are spaces that have limited openings that are large enough for someone to enter, but that are not designed for continuous worker occupancy. Examples of confined spaces include storage tanks, pits, bins, silos, manholes, tunnels, ductwork, pipelines and excavated areas.
The potential hazards of confined spaces include:
- Exposure to toxic or flammable gases or chemicals (due to limited ventilation)
- High noise levels from crushing or grinding machinery
- Extreme hot or cold temperature
- Limited lighting and low visibility
What are permit spaces?
Permit-required confined spaces (or just permit spaces for short) are a subcategory of confined spaces that require extra precautions. Just as the name suggests, these spaces require special permits to enter, and continuous monitoring and testing before entering and during work.
Permit spaces are defined as confined spaces that also have serious added hazards such as
- Hazardous atmosphere (includes flammable gasses, airborne dust, high or low oxygen levels, or high levels of other atmospheric contaminants)
- Fluid material capable of engulfing people
- Converging walls
- Downward sloping or tapering floors
- Heat stress
- Unguarded machinery
- Exposed wires or electrical threats
- Slick or wet surfaces
- Falling objects
- Any other recognized serious hazard
Safety precautions in confined spaces.
The type of safety precautions required will depend on the hazards present in a given confined space.
Required personal protective equipment that may be used in a confined space may include:
- Air-supplying respirator
- Eye protection
- Protective clothing
What is the role of attendants in permit space safety?
Attendants are assigned to monitor the safety of the people entering a permit space and must be fully aware of the hazards inside. They must communicate with entrants and monitor environmental testing equipment from a safe location outside. An attendant’s job is to protect workers by performing non-entry rescues, summoning rescue services, tracking entrants and keeping other personnel out of the hazardous space. Employers are required to provide at least one attendant, and if the attendant is responsible for monitoring two confined spaces, the employer must also provide the means for emergency responses to both spaces.
What are the other responsibilities of employers when it comes to confined spaces?
If a worker’s job requires entry into confined spaces (whether permit-requiring or not), the employer is responsible for providing:
- Proper training
- Emergency action and rescue plans
- Atmospheric testing equipment
- Personal protective equipment
- Respiratory protection
- A fast, appropriate response to reported hazards