Confined space presents itself as a dual challenge to the workplace. It not only combines a mother of checklists unlike any other task assigned, there is also the case for impeccable coordination between the designated team members.
Safe working in confined space is like a ticking metronome, the team members must anticipate, plan, act and mitigate to its rhythm.
Here are the key steps that pave the way for safe working under confined space:
- Design and planning for confined space entry management
- Designated roles with actionable responsibilities – with affirmative backup plan
- Isolation and monitoring of potential hazards – at-source, at-site and under extraordinary circumstances
- Effective entry, work and exit plan with contingency aspects built-in
- Documented, corroborated (if possible) and updated confined space management plan understood by site supervisor, entry supervisor and the EHS personnel (preferably supervisor or manager)
- Rescue plan with element of anticipation and contingency playing a ‘practical’ role
Broadly, these steps have come to define confined space working. And within these steps lie the permits, isolations, engineering controls, safety equipment and human insight that enables a single person entry point and work within confined or restricted surroundings.
While on the subject of anticipation – confined space needs careful planning related to monitoring as well. While watertight isolation procedures with permit-to-work, LOTO and advisory in place, equipment and mechanized asset malfunction especially in extremely hazardous work environments like oil and gas as well as chemical industry have unique challenges of their own. Harmful gas built-up during or after the entry into confined space would require multiple monitoring points to ensure a better prediction rate.
It is not just the plan and personnel that need to be proactive, better responsive equipment needs to be used under confined space work conditions. A great way to understand and deliver better received trainings for confined space working is to emulate the conditions to a near exact. While training simulations can work to align understanding with the practical aspects – actual workplace under demo conditions can go a longer way, in terms of recall and becoming adept.
Another way to manage confined space working is not to restrict your personnel to a few members and introduce a squad rotation to ensure better exposure. Under normal circumstances, alternate entry and exit procedures act as potential trump cards, in case of an emergency. But these aspects along with ventilation play a significant role in ensuring safety of personnel.
While documentation and planning are a great way to determine better success ratio, sometimes, ordinary ‘observe and report’ protocols can provide insights that might help plan confined space working, safely.
Residual gas built-up or chemical enriched atmosphere may eat into the mechanized asset integrity over the years, such conditions can interfere with confined space work. Better detection through safety inspection and observation plans synced on a digital platform with the other EHS monitoring program can make things markedly safer.
In the upcoming series of confined space working, we will be moving on from the broad EHS perspective to specific roles and responsibilities by highlighting some of the examples that can play out in diverse workplaces
Image Courtesy: (U.S. Air Force photo/Karen Abeyasekere)