Many workplaces contain spaces that are considered "confined" because their configurations hinder the activities of any employees who must enter, work in, and exit them. For example, employees who work in process vessels generally must squeeze in and out through narrow openings and perform their tasks while cramped or contorted. OSHA uses the term "confined space" to describe such spaces.
In addition, there are many instances where employees who work in confined spaces face increased risk of exposure to serious hazards. In some cases, confinement itself poses entrapment hazards. In other cases, confined space work keeps employees closer to hazards, such as asphyxiating atmospheres or the moving parts of machinery. OSHA uses the term "permit-required confined space" (permit space) to describe those spaces that both meet the definition of "confined space" and pose health or safety hazards.
Confined spaces may be encountered in virtually any occupation; therefore, their recognition is the first step in preventing fatalities. Since deaths in confined spaces often occur because the atmosphere is oxygen deficient or toxic, confined spaces should be tested prior to entry and continually monitored.
Common confined space hazards include:
- Flammable atmospheres
- Toxic atmospheres
- Irritant (corrosive) atmospheres
- Asphyxiating atmospheres