The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a confined space as a space that meets these criteria: 1) being large enough for an employee to enter and perform work; 2) has limited or restricted means for entry or exit; and 3) is not designed for continuous occupancy. This describes many areas where a worker can come in contact with on a daily basis. This illustrates what would be considered a non-permit required confined space.

A permit-required confined space will contain all of the above, plus one or more of the following:

  • a substance that has the ability to engulf or asphyxiate the entrant

  • a potentially hazardous atmosphere

  • spaces with inwardly converging walls within the space or a floor that slopes downward,

  • tapering to a small cross-section

  • contains any other serious safety or health hazard

According to a 13-year study done by UC Berkeley Health Researchers, entering a permit-required confined space can present conditions that are immediately dangerous to workers’ lives or health and results in hundreds of deaths. From 2011 to 2018, 1,030 workers died from occupational injuries involving a confined space.

Many owners of confined spaces and employers who enter confined space rely on public fire departments to rescue workers from confined spaces, such as water and sewer pipes, manholes and tunnels. This can delay the extraction of workers from the spaces and increase the risk of life threatening situations.

OSHA requires that any time an employer has workers entering confined spaces there needs to be a written program developed that outline and instructs on the proper safety procedures for working around and occupancy of these confined spaces and lists the rescue plan.

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According to Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S), statistics, old or new, show industry have not improved mitigating, or eliminating, the risk of confined space injuries and fatalities.

Here are some findings from 2018 of the NIOSH investigations of confined space incidents:

  • 85% of the time a SUPERVISOR was present.

  • 29% of the dead were SUPERVISORS.

  • 31% had WRITTEN Confined Space Entry PROCEDURES.

  • 0% used the WRITTEN PROCEDURES.

  • 15% had Confined Space TRAINING.

  • 0% had a RESCUE PLAN.

  • 60% of “WOULD-BE” RESCUERS died.

  • 95% were AUTHORIZED by supervision.

  • 0% of the spaces were TESTED prior to entry.

  • 0% were VENTILATED.