Proper Training for Confined Spaces

Published On: February 19, 2024By Categories: Safety, Safety Matters

Employees whose work takes them in confined spaces must have a training program.

By Alexandra Walsh

Employees are injured or killed each year because of their working in confined spaces. What is striking is an estimated 60% of the fatalities have been deaths that occurred during a rescue attempt. What happens often is an employee who doesn’t have the proper training attempts to rescue the person being confined and then ends up getting caught himself.

Before your employees enter confined spaces, they must first be made aware of all the hazards associated doing such work and receive training. It is essential to your employees’ safety.

Proper training can prevent employee injuries and deaths by covering OSHA’s confined space requirements (29 CFR 1910.146 – Permit-Required Confined Spaces).

What Is Confined Space?

Many workplaces contain areas that are considered “confined spaces” because, while they are not necessarily designed for people, they are large enough for workers to enter them and perform certain jobs.

A confined space also has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy. Confined spaces include tanks, pits, manholes, tunnels, ductwork, and pipelines.

OSHA uses the term “permit-required confined space” to describe a confined space that has the following characteristics:

  • Contains a hazardous atmosphere or the potential to cause asphyxiation
  • Contains material that has the potential to completely cover or engulf someone
  • Has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area that could trap or asphyxiate a person
  • Contains any other safety or health hazard such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress.

OSHA Standard and Requirements

OSHA 1910.146 is the standard for confined spaces. The OSHA confined space standard explains for employers the requirements for permit-required confined spaces in detail:

  • Evaluate the workplace to determine if any spaces meet the description of a permit-required confined space.
  • Inform employees who may become exposed if the evaluation shows the workplace contains a permit-required space.
  • Take effective measures to prevent employees from entering a permit-required space if the employer decides workers are not to enter such a space.
  • Develop a written permit space program if employer decides that employees can enter permit-required spaces.
  • When there are changes that might increase the hazards to workers in a non-permit confined space, evaluate that space again and if needed reclassify it as a permit-required confined space.
  • A space classified by the employer as a permit-required confined space may be reclassified as a non-permit confined space under specific procedures.
  • When an employer has another contractor’s employees perform work that involves permit space entry, the employer should require the contractor’s employees follow the employer’s established protocol.

Confined Risks

Most confined spaces were not meant for humans to inhabit but are temporarily occupied by workers as they complete job tasks. Due to entry and exit barriers, confined spaces pose any number of safety hazards.

The space itself might be poorly constructed and prone to collapse. The area may contain poisonous substances that have built up or collected over time. Or the work required to be done in the space could be dangerous to begin with. All these risks are amplified as the confined space gets smaller, harder to get out of, or less accessible to other workers.

All those who work in confined spaces must be trained to be aware of the hazardous risks involved and how to prevent them. Hazards in confined spaces can be deadly because of the potential for engulfment, oxygen deficiency, oxygen enrichment, flammable gases or vapors, combustible dusts, and toxic substances,

Also, there may be health-related hazards that could impact employee safety such as electrical equipment, mechanical equipment, poor visibility, biohazards, claustrophobia, noise, radiation, and temperature.

Enclosed spaces expose workers to high risks of fire, explosion, losing consciousness, or becoming asphyxiated.

The troubling reality is that any hazard that could otherwise be encountered anywhere in the workplace can also occur in a confined space. But the critical thing to consider is that these hazards will be much more severe in an area where entry and exit are limited.

Safety Training

Employers should provide the most effective safety equipment and invest in training to use that equipment properly to control confined-space hazards. And remember above all, a well-designed and properly executed rescue plan is a must.

Rescue efforts and entry operations into a confined space require top-level safety solutions to help keep workers safe.

Portable gas detectors are valuable tools in the effort to prevent serious and fatal injuries. A company must possess appropriate safety products, tools, space rescue systems, descent devices, and rope descenders to save lives in confined spaces.

Further, safety training helps companies avoid penalties and injuries by ensuring the highest quality training to meet requirements for the 29 CFR 1910.146 standard.

Training employees is essential to managing the risks associated with working in a confined space. Once again, it begins with a thorough hazard assessment for each confined space to make all workers aware of the risks at hand.

Written and verbally communicated work protocols must be present. These protocols should identify entry and exit barriers, the ventilation systems in place, specific rescue procedures, standby or “on-watch” workers, and information regarding required PPE—such as harnesses, lifelines, or lifting equipment.

Training should cover in detail items such as:

  • Introduction to OSHA’s definitions and requirements pertaining to confined spaces.
  • Clarification of safety requirements for entry into a confined space.
  • Which hazards are encountered or potential in a confined space.
  • Hazardous conditions that would definitely prevent entry.
  • Entry permit checklist items needed prior to entering a confined space.
  • What personal protective equipment may need to be worn.
  • Effective rescue procedures in place and understood by all personnel.
  • How to respond to a crisis emergency when a worker is trapped.

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Learning about and understanding confined spaces is crucial. Workers can die because of a lack of information and training and because there are no safety plans in place for rescue. At the end of the day, awareness is everything.

Learn More from Video and Download Excavation Apps
Click here to watch a video with Jim Wright who discusses trench safety at the 16-minute mark.

Wright references two helpful apps in the video:

Both apps are not OSHA-approved but are high quality and exceed OSHA requirements.


Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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