For employers with employees who will work in confined spaces, special training and safety procedures are necessary parts of a comprehensive risk management program. Failing to follow best practices could risk the health of employees and drive up workers’ compensation costs.
What is a “confined space”?
For risk management purposes, a wide variety of work environments could qualify as a confined space. Every employer needs to know the state and local rules that apply to its employees. OSHA describes a confined space as having these features:
- It’s large enough for someone to enter.
- It has limited routes for entry and exit.
- It isn’t designed for continuous occupancy.
The scope of confined spaces is quite broad. A storage unit, server room, tank, pipeline, or tower all might qualify as a confined space.
OSHA defines especially dangerous types of confined space as “permit required.” If a space contains a serious health hazard, presents a risk of engulfing or drowning an occupant, or is designed in such a way as to present a significant risk, the employer must obtain a permit and follow its requirements.
What are the risks?
Confined spaces present a number of special risks.
- An employee in a confined space could get injured out of sight of other workers.
- An injured employee may get trapped, or may not be able to get out of the space on his or her own.
- Many confined spaces also involve other hazards, like heights (for example, wind turbine towers) and high voltage sources.
Process and training are the answer.
Because confined spaces present special risks, a safety program must give them special attention. Several steps are needed to minimize the potential for problems:
- Work areas must be evaluated for confined space hazards and appropriately labeled. In some cases modifications may be required to bring a confined space up to current safety standards.
- Employees need to be trained in confined space procedures. These include posting an employee outside the confined space whenever it is entered.
- In many cases, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other simple safety tools can dramatically reduce the risk of injury.
Employers should adopt a clear written policy for working in confined spaces. By giving employees the necessary skills and equipment to do their work safely, employers can reduce the risk of injuries, keep workers’ compensation costs under control, and foster a happier workforce.
Gunnin Insurance works with businesses in high-risk industries to find sustainable and cost-effective workers’ compensation and risk management solutions. We have the resources your business needs to address the risks of confined spaces and other workplace hazards. Reach out to Gunnin today to schedule an appointment.