Expert Tips for Working in Confined Spaces

Confined spaces can present safety risks for workers, especially in industries such as wastewater, water treatment, industrial, and more. Confined spaces create a lack of oxygen when another gas is exposed, leading to a variety of health risks, depending on the gas leaking. According to OSHA, a confined space is a space that can be bodily entered, has very few emergency exits, and is not designed for continuous occupancy. Additionally, spaces can be confined if they are in a potentially hazardous environment, can immerse a worker, and trap a worker.

Working within confined spaces not only requires an experienced team and practice, but also the necessary technical equipment. Only then is it possible to measure the rooms to exclude toxic or explosive substances and to initiate any required rescue measures. This includes the use of gas detection devices (both fixed and portable) and full knowledge of personal protective equipment (PPE).

There is a risk of losing consciousness due to a lack of oxygen and suffocating in a confined space, or absorbing poisonous bacteria or viruses through the skin, mouth, and respiratory systems. Falls can occur as well or other accidents resulting from increased material wear in the environment. Despite all safety precautions, entering confined spaces will always pose risks because the conditions inside cannot be predicted with 100% confidence. 

Workers and/or supervisors may have undergone training regarding behavior in confined spaces, but they may not have adequate knowledge of how to use gas measurement devices. Lack of knowledge can result in errors in judgment due to the measurement taken at the wrong location: During entry into a shaft, it is possible for single toxic gases or digester gas (a mixture including CH4, CO2, H2S, O2, and H2), to form and settled at different heights. This indicates the atmosphere can appear safe when measuring but is actually dangerous due to gas concentrations present when the person enters, moves around, and begins work in the shaft.

When in confined spaces, workers in these areas should always carry a mobile gas measurement device and emergency escape equipment directly on their bodies. To ensure that workers while working in confined spaces are protected when gases are present, they should utilize breathing protection as well. Accidents can also happen if the wrong sensors are used—an explosion sensor, for example, only detects whether an explosive concentration of a gas is present. Some toxic concentrations are so low that they aren’t detected by an explosion sensor, even though a risk of poisoning already exists. This is because an explosion sensor normally only measures the volume percentile in order to detect the risk of an explosion. It does not indicate the risk of poisoning which can exist even in the ppm (parts per million) range.Otis Instruments offers a vast selection of Wired and WireFree easy-to-use, robust, and configurable gas detectors and monitors capable of detecting both toxic and non-toxic gases for diverse applications. Unsure which detection system is the best for your industry? Contact one of our specialists to provide more information regarding gas detection systems in your industry today!

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