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Does your employer protect you from confined space hazards?

AdobeStock_208285550.jpgAs a construction worker in Minnesota, you may have to enter boilers, bins, utility manholes, pits or HVAC ducts. Your employer may also send you into storm water drains, tanks, crawl spaces, vaults or attics. Do you know that these areas qualify as confined spaces that could pose life-threatening risks?

A confined space is an area with restricted or limited entry and exit ways, which is not meant for continuous occupancy by workers, but it can accommodate an employee if necessary. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration prescribes specific rules for the construction industry because, unlike other industries, in which confined spaces are in fixed positions, the number and characteristics of these spaces change as work progress on a construction site.

When is a confined space a permit space?

OSHA requires employers to appoint a competent person who can identify and address hazardous conditions to determine whether confined spaces need permits for entry into them. A "yes" answer to any of the following questions will make it a permit space:

  • Does the area have inwardly converging walls? If the internal configuration includes inwardly converging walls or a sloping floor that tapers to a reduced cross-section, inadequate ventilation can cause a hazardous atmosphere. Furthermore, escaping the space or a rescue attempt in the event of an injury could be difficult.
  • Is there a risk of a hazardous atmosphere? Flammable or toxic chemicals and an insufficient oxygen supply can cause life-threatening injuries or death.
  • Is there a risk of engulfment? If a flowable solid or liquid substance is present or could enter and surround the worker, he or she could suffer asphyxiation. The force of engulfment can also cause constriction, strangulation, crushing or suffocation.
  • Are any other safety hazards present? Other recognized risks that could threaten the safety of a worker include explosion and fire hazards, extreme temperatures, dangerous electrical, mechanical, pneumatic or hydraulic energy, noise, radiation, corrosive chemicals or biological hazards like insects or venomous animals.

Permit space program

If the competent person identifies any of these hazards, your employer must establish a written permit space program that will only allow access to the confined spaces for employees with permits to enter. Your employer must also post warning signs to identify permit spaces, and provide training and enforcement related to these hazards.

If you were the victim of a confined space injury on a construction site, you could pursue financial assistance through the Minnesota workers' compensation insurance program. Resources are available to provide support and guidance throughout the ensuing legal and administrative proceedings.

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