Never Underestimate the Risks of a Confined Space

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast month, a high school classmate of mine, and his co-worker, were involved in a fatally tragic, yet totally preventable, accident in a grain elevator—among other hazards, a confined space.

I’ve spent my whole life working and doing my part to make sure that family, friends and coworkers are educated about the hazards involved with their jobs and the ways to properly protect themselves from those hazards. This hit me hard.

I assume that theirs was like most accidents: It’s not normally one thing that goes wrong, but a series of things.

We get complacent. We get comfortable. We minimize the hazards that we face every day, because we’ve done the work and faced the hazards so often and nothing bad has ever happened. We tell ourselves that the task will only take a minute—much less time than preparing everything to make sure it’s safe to perform the task.

A routine task can turn into an emergency in a fraction of a second, especially in a confined space. Why?

Confined spaces are areas that:

  1. Are large enough for employees to enter and perform work.
  2. Are not designed for continuous occupancy.
  3. Have limited or restricted means of entry/egress.

By virtue of this definition alone, these spaces are challenging environments—not only to work in, but also to perform any kind of extraction or rescue. The atmosphere constantly changes, especially with the addition of chemicals or byproducts of the operations you’re performing.

Entering a confined space without the appropriate evaluation, protection and/or monitoring equipment is not an acceptable risk for employers or employees. You MUST follow all established procedures EVERY time you enter. No shortcuts, no rationalizations.

Please don’t ever minimize or take for granted the hazards in these spaces. If nothing else, consider the difficulties of rescue. It took more than nine hours just to remove my classmate and his co-worker from the grain elevator.

If you need help addressing your confined space risk, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My LJB teammates and I can help you evaluate your spaces and create a plan to minimize your risk.

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