Working in construction comes with its own set of challenges and dangers that workers face each day. Heavy and cumbersome equipment, various types of machinery, and insufficient protective equipment all place certain risks on workers. One prevalent risk factor is working in confined or small spaces.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), roughly 2.1 million workers enter confined spaces each year. Those attempting to rescue other workers who have become stuck account for 60% of the fatalities that occur from entering and working in a confined space. Because construction jobs come with many unique challenges, knowing the risks to look out for can help protect workers.
What is a Confined Space?
A confined space is any area with limited entry or exit. Even if an entry is only partially closed, the space is still considered confined, as the worker is typically unable to enter or exit freely. In fact, most confined spaces are not meant for humans, but are temporarily occupied by workers as they complete their work.
Because of the limited space, confined areas pose many different safety hazards. The space could be poorly constructed and prone to collapse, the area may contain poisonous substances, unguarded machinery, exposed wires, limited airflow, or the work required to be done in the space could be dangerous in the first place. All of these risks increase as the confined space gets smaller, more difficult to exit, or less accessible to other workers.
Types of confined spaces
Some of the most common types of confined spaces workers typically interact with include:
- Storage tanks
- Underground electrical vaults
- Water mains
- Grease pits
- Sewer stations
- HVAC ducts
Risks of Confined Spaces
Many workplace hazards on a typical jobsite can occur within a confined space, making hazards much more severe as points of entry and exit are limited. Workers can potentially be overcome with poor air quality or inadequate oxygen supply, radiation, toxic gases, or extreme temperatures. Explosive or flammable substances and electrical hazards can become deadly in a matter of seconds if workers are unable to evacuate quickly.
Poisonous gases are much more likely to build up in a smaller, poorly ventilated space than outside in open air or in a large building. This build-up can happen in a matter of seconds, and if a worker is unable to escape the confined space, the toxic gas could quickly overcome them. Furthermore, the nature of the space makes a co-worker or supervisor’s ability to rescue the distressed employee much more difficult.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards and requirements for working in a confined space require a competent and adequately trained worker complete any work done in these areas when there are multiple employers or supervisors at the worksite. This ensures potential hazards are controlled. For example, if a generator is running near the entrance of a confined area, it could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide; outside supervisors work to control toxic fumes.
Many of these spaces require a permit prior to any workers entering due to the many different hazards. OSHA requires potential atmospheric changes be monitored frequently, as well as any hazards that could engulf or collapse the space. Workers and supervisors outside of the confined area should be in constant contact with those inside via a two-way radio or other device. This way, should a worker say they need to leave, supervisors can act quickly.
Houston Workplace Accident Attorneys
Though OSHA has many different regulations in place to keep workers safe, they are not always complied with in the interest of monetary gain. This negligence causes severe accidents that can leave workers unable to do the work they once could. The assistance of an experienced workplace accident attorney will help you hold the negligent parties responsible for their actions. If you or someone you know was injured in a workplace accident, contact Ramsey Law Group today.