Confined Space

Confined Space

Many facilities contain areas that are known as “confined spaces” that employees may enter, work in, or exit. The configurations of these spaces, which include structures such as tanks and wells, may hinder the activities of workers and present health and safety hazards. Permit-required confined spaces present additional hazards for workers and require extra safeguards.

OSHA requires employers with confined spaces and permit-required confined spaces to identify permit-required confined spaces, control hazards associated with the space, test the space conditions, and provide employee training.

Why is it important to comply with the confined spaces regulations?

Confined spaces are present in many industrial facilities. These structures include tanks, vessels, storage bins, manholes, tunnels, and equipment housings. Employees that work in permit-required confined spaces may face increased risk of exposure to serious physical injuries from hazards such as entrapment, engulfment and hazardous atmospheric conditions. As a result, permit-required confined spaces have additional safety requirements.

Identifying confined spaces and adhering to OSHA’s requirements for permit-required confined spaces leads to better safety conditions for employees who must work in or around confined spaces. Failure to comply with OSHA’s confined space requirements will subject the employer to civil fines and possibly criminal penalty under OSHA’s regulations.

In addition to OSHA’s regulations, 28 states currently operate their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health plans with confined space standards that are identical to or stricter than the federal OSHA standards.

Confined Space Determination

OSHA’s standard for confined spaces is contained in 29 CFR 1910.146. This regulation also details practices and procedures for employers with permit-required confined spaces, which trigger many more OSHA requirements.
Employers in general industry must determine whether their confined spaces constitute permit-required confined spaces. Confined spaces are areas that are not necessarily designed for people, but are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain tasks.

Confined spaces also have limited or restricted means for entry or exit and are not designed for continuous occupancy. Permit-required confined spaces are confined spaces that have health or safety hazards such as hazardous atmosphere, engulfing materials, converging walls or floors, or any other recognized safety or health hazard.

Specifically, permit-required confined spaces have one or more of the following characteristics:

1) contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere;
2) contains a material with the potential to engulf someone who enters the space;
3) has an internal configuration that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross section;
4) contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazards.

If the confined space determination concludes that an area is a permit-required confined space, the employer must determine whether to allow its employees to enter the permit-required confined space. OSHA defines “entry” as an action by which a person passes through an opening to a permit-required confined space. Simply placing a hand through the opening of a permit-required confined space is considered an entry.

If employees will not enter the permit-required confined space, an employer must simply label the permit-required confined space and prevent employees from entering. If employees will enter the permit-required confined space, the employer must implement a permit system to facilitate entries into the permit-required confined space.

Importance of implementing an active regulatory watch on confined spaces regulations

Confined spaces and permit-confined spaces are widely prevalent in industrial facilities. Since common structures such as tanks, vaults, and storage bins constitute confined spaces, many workplaces are subject to OSHA’s confined space requirements.
Implementing an active regulatory watch on these regulations will keep the facility up-to-date on its confined space obligations.

In addition, OSHA recently proposed to extend confined space requirements to the construction industry. Effective August 2015, OSHA’s rulemaking imposes many of the same confined space requirements that apply to general industry on construction operations. A regulatory watch tracks regulatory changes such as the confined space standard for the construction industry.

Learn more about confined spaces

Confined Space Permit Program Regulations
Confined Space Solutions
PPE Safety

Definitions

What is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that imposes health and safety standards on employers to protect workers from occupational hazards. OSHA enforces the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which establishes regulations to promote safe conditions in the workplace.

What is an entry permit?

An entry permit is a document that allows an employee to enter a permit-required confined space. The entry permit must identify the space to be entered, work to be performed, date and duration of the entry, entrants, attendants, entry supervisor, permit-space hazards, hazard controls, acceptable entry conditions, results of initial and periodic tests, rescue service contact information, communication procedures, equipment, and any other relevant information or permits.

What is an atmospheric hazard?

An atmospheric hazard is a condition that will render a confined space a permit-required confined space if present. Atmospheric hazards affect air quality and present immediate hazards to health or life. These conditions must be verified before entry and continuously monitored while the worker occupies the permit-required confined space.

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