When talking about safety precautions for your facility, it’s important to understand confined spaces in general industry applications. While every environment might pose a different number of risks, the overall limitations of a confined space defined by OSHA are immense. For certain conditions, it may even warrant a permit. Discover the factors of permit-required confined spaces vs non-permitted confined spaces to broaden your knowledge of safety concerns.
In short, the difference resides with the requirement or absence of a permit for confined space entry. Every workplace has its challenges, but with an enclosed space, outside support is restrained. Certain environments may even contain combustible materials that could ignite instantaneously, putting workers’ lives at risk. OSHA has created a set of guidelines to distinguish which types of confined spaces require authorized entrants or not.
What is a Confined or Enclosed Space?
Simply put, a confined space is an area that is not customarily designed for people to occupy for long periods of time. It may be designed large enough for workers to enter and perform certain tasks, but entrants may have limited or restricted means for entry or exit. While confined spaces pose a number of hazards, the main concern is space. If a competent person can efficiently enter and exit the area without the presence of a hazardous atmosphere, the space has a high chance of not needing a permit. Examples of non-permit confined spaces include attic crawl spaces, small sheds, tanks, vaults, or silos.
What is a Permit-Required Confined Space?
In comparison, “Permit-required confined spaces” describe potentially hazardous spaces. These types of confined spaces require entry permits for workers due to the amount of safety or health hazards present in that area. Compared to non-permit required confined space as defined above, a permit is required if the space has one or more of the following characteristics:
- Presence of toxic gases or combustible materials
- Materials that have the potential to engulf the entry point
- Converging walls or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area that could trap or asphyxiate an entrant
- Other safety or health hazards such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress
Pro Tip: Use proper gas detection in your facility to protect against the health risks of hydrogen sulfide or other contaminants that may be unseen by the human eye.
Health Risks of All Enclosed Spaces
Due to the reduced accessibility of a confined space, there are a number of health and safety concerns to consider, such as:
- Toxic gas poisoning causing judgment impairment, unconsciousness, and even death
- Oxygen deficiency caused by other gases in the atmosphere or absorption of air onto steel surfaces, especially when damp
- Excess amount of oxygen has the potential to ignite combustible materials, increasing the risk for fire or explosion
- Small space creates a flammable or explosive atmosphere due to the amount of hot gases
- Flowing liquid or free-flowing solids could cause drowning, suffocation, burns, or other injuries
- Excessive heat conditions increase the risk for overheating, heat stroke, or heat stress
Minimizing Safety Hazards
If your workplace contains confined spaces, there are a number of ways for you to protect your employees. Ensure that your current practices are adhering to the permit space program by accessing the risks of your specific environment. Between providing personal protective equipment for employees and installing a detection system to monitor toxic gases in your atmosphere, it’s important to be prepared for whatever hazard is present.
Connect with our safety experts to learn more about confined spaces, hazardous chemicals, and why proper gas detection is necessary.