Confined space regulations are promulgated by government agencies such as the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) in the United States to govern the conditions under which workers may labor in confined spaces, such as storage tanks, grain elevators and elevator pits. These regulations have developed over the years in response to a national average of over 90 people killed annually in what are defined as enclosed-space accidents. People who work in confined spaces, and employers, must follow the regulations specifically.
Confined spaces themselves are generally defined by DOSH as spaces large enough for a person to work in, but not designed for continual occupancy, that has a restricted means of entry and exit. The volume of a confined space isn’t nearly as important as means and ease of entry and exit. Grain and storage silos are considered confined spaces, for example, because of the limited access, even though they’re very large.
A confined space that requires a permit to enter, called a permit-required confined space, is a confined space that also poses a potential hazard to a worker. Potential hazards can include the potential to trap the worker with converging walls or a tapering configuration, the presence of materials that could engulf the worker, such as sawdust or grain, or any other possible dangers. Confined space regulations make the employer responsible for certifying permit-required confined spaces and following the regulations regarding their access, which usually includes written authority, standby personnel, and proper training of any workers designated to enter the space.
Confined space regulations are a necessary element of industrial policy because without them, too many employers and employees ignore, or are unaware of, the dangers posed by working in a confined space. Horror stories abound of workers suffering calamitous injuries or even death due to their work in confined spaces. Confined space regulations are heavily oriented toward safety, stressing prevention of injury along with readiness for emergency. For example, once a confined space is determined to be a permit-required confined space, the employer must develop a thorough plan for complying with DOSH standards. Workers entering the space must be authorized to do so, in writing, and before they actually enter the space, the air quality must be tested, following which it must be monitored while the worker is in the space. Confined space regulations also deal thoroughly with emergencies and rescue operations.
The reason for confined space regulations is to establish uniform standards of safety in an area where safety is too often overlooked, rather than simply to alert employers to the hazard and expect them to develop procedures on their own. The existence of such uniform standards not only protects workers and facilitates enforcement of the regulations, but it also helps businesses keep their costs down by avoiding either having to develop their own programs or to meet the various regulations of the different states in which they operate.