Dan Corrigan
Dan Corrigan

Even after 23 years of conducting training, we continue to build our business one satisfied customer at a time. Interest is generated amongst your employees by creating a fun learning atmosphere

Follow these simple, common sense rules and it’s extremely unlikely that your entry into a confined space will result in injury or death. But break them, and it’s only a matter of time before you get someone killed or injured.

These general rules are the distilled wisdom of confined space operations, consolidated from many sources, and with the exception of the first rule, they are not in any particular order.

1. Monitor the atmosphere

Atmospheric monitoring is the first and most critical rule, as most fatalities in confined spaces are the result of atmospheric problems. Remember, your nose is not a gas detector — some hazards have characteristic odors and others do not. Even when you can detect the presence of a hazard, you cannot determine the extent of that hazard. Some materials may even deaden your sense of smell after short exposure, which can deceive you into thinking the problem has gone away, when in fact your ability to smell it is all that went away. The only reliable method for accurate detection of atmospheric problems is instrument monitoring. Basic confined space atmospheric monitoring should routinely include oxygen concentration and flammable gases and vapors. OSHA regulations require the oxygen concentration to be between 19.5 and 23.5 percent and flammable vapors or gases to be below ten percent of the lower explosive limit (LEL).

But regulatory limits provide only minimal protection. Best practices dictate that any variation from normal (20.9 percent oxygen and 0 percent LEL) should be investigated and corrected prior to entering the space.

Toxic monitoring requires an evaluation of potential atmospheric contaminants before you even determine how the monitoring will be performed. Simply put, this means you must establish what you need to look for in order to determine what equipment to use. The following digital instruments are available for common toxic contaminants:

  • Electrochemical sensors measure carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, ammonia, chlorine, and several other materials.
  • Infrared sensors measure carbon dioxide and several other materials.
  • Photo ionization and flame ionization detectors will measure volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at the parts per million (ppm) level. This may be required if solvent vapors are present. These vapors will exceed the limits for inhalation long before they will be detected with most LEL meters.
  • Colorimetric tubes can be used to determine if a toxic contaminant is present in situations where no digital instrument is available.

A thorough assessment of the atmospheric conditions in the space must be completed before entering the space, and should be continued during the entire entry.

2. Eliminate or control hazards

All hazards identified during the hazard assessment must be eliminated or controlled prior to entering the space.Elimination, the preferred method for dealing with hazards, means that a hazard has been handled in a way that it cannot possibly have an impact on the operation. For example, a properly installed blank eliminates the hazard of material being introduced through a pipe.

Control implies that the measures in place contain a hazard. If these measures were to fail, the hazard could have an impact on the operation. Ventilation (see below) is an example of a control, because if the ventilation setup quits, the atmospheric hazard may return.

3. Ventilate the space

Your approach to atmospheric problems should be to correct the condition prior to entry, and ventilation and related activities are the best options for correcting these problems.Forced-air ventilation is generally the most effective approach for confined space entry operations. This technique dilutes and displaces the atmospheric contaminants in the space. Exhaust ventilation works best when a single-point source, such as welding, is the cause of the atmospheric contaminant.

Introduced air must be fresh. Use caution to avoid introducing hazards such as having the inlet of the ventilation setup too near the exhaust of a vehicle. Sufficient volume for the size of the space must be used. The length of duct and the number of bends in the duct can significantly reduce airflow and must be considered.

4. Use proper personal protective equipment

Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) should be the last line of defense. Elimination and control of hazards should be done whenever possible. PPE is essential when the hazards present cannot be eliminated or controlled through other means. PPE that meets the specific hazard must be readily available to the work crew. And personnel must be trained and competent in the proper use of the equipment. It is equally important that supervisors insist on proper use.

5. Isolate the space

Isolation of the space should eliminate the opportunity for introducing additional hazards through external connections. This includes lockout of all powered devices associated with the space, such as electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic, and gaseous agent fire control systems. Piping isolation may be completed with blanks, by disconnecting piping, or with a double block-and-bleed arrangement. A single valve is not adequate isolation.

6. Know the attendant’s role

An outside attendant must be present to monitor the safety of the entry operation, to help during an emergency, and to call for assistance from outside if that becomes necessary. The attendant’s role is primarily to help ensure that problems do not escalate to the point where rescue is needed. If an entrant does get injured or overcome, the attendant is to call for help and use external retrieval if available. This attendant must never enter the space during emergencies — multiple fatality incidents in confined spaces usually result from people attempting rescue.

7. Be prepared for rescues

Any equipment required for rescue must be available to those who are designated to use it. External retrieval equipment that may be used by the attendant must be in place when appropriate. More advanced rescue equipment for entry-type rescues must be available to the designated rescue crew.You must ensure that the rescue crew is properly equipped to handle rescue for the particular situation. For example, if the rescue crew for your facility has self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and your spaces do not have large enough openings for the SCBA to pass through, the rescue crew will not be able to perform effectively. In this case, they should be equipped with airline breathing apparatus with escape cylinders.

8. Use good lighting

Lighting is important for two primary reasons: You cannot safely perform in environments where you cannot see adequately, and lighting failure can cause fear. Anyone who is uncomfortable inside a well-lit confined space may become afraid if the lighting fails, and fear can cause people to behave irrationally and injure themselves or others.The entrant should always have at least one backup source of lighting, so if cord lights are used, the entrant should also carry a flashlight.

9. Plan for emergencies

You must assume you will have emergencies. While your efforts to prevent them need to be constant, odds are good that you will have to deal with at least a minor emergency if you engage in confined space entry over a long enough period.Emergencies may not even have anything to do with the confined space, but if the entrant is in the space at the time of the emergency, prompt and effective action is required. If your entry crew is prepared for this emergency, it may be handled without a problem. If preparations are not adequate, the emergency may easily turn into a fatal incident.

10. Emphasize constant communication

Effective communications are critical to safe operation and are the string that ties all the other activities together. Communication must be maintained between entrants and the attendant. The attendant must also be able to contact the entry supervisor and call for emergency help.None of these steps is complex or difficult, but they still provide the layout for a basic, safe approach to confined space entry. Be aware that the next time you read about a confined space fatality, at least one of these general rules was probably violated. And do your best to ensure that I won’t ever read about one of your entries.

This article is from ishn.com
Dan Corrigan
Dan Corrigan

Even after 23 years of conducting training, we continue to build our business one satisfied customer at a time. Interest is generated amongst your employees by creating a fun learning atmosphere

Dan Corrigan
Dan Corrigan

Even after 23 years of conducting training, we continue to build our business one satisfied customer at a time. Interest is generated amongst your employees by creating a fun learning atmosphere

“Putting out a fire” is a common phrase used by businesspeople every day. But what if the fire is more than a metaphor? Do you know what to do to lessen the likelihood of an office fire breaking out — and how to react if one does?

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), there were more than 98,000 non-residential building fires in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. Many of them were in small offices and buildings. Estimated property loss from these blazes was $2.6 billion.

A 5-year NFPA analysis found that:

  • Most “business and mercantile” fires occurred when the premises were less populated. One-third of the fires (31 percent) occurred between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am, but created two-thirds (67 percent) of the direct property damage. Nineteen percent occurred on weekends and created 31 percent of the damage. A lot of fires also broke out between noon and 2:00 pm.
  • Twenty-nine percent of commercial blazes were caused by cooking equipment and resulted in 6 percent of the direct property damage; 22 percent began in the kitchen or cooking area, causing just one percent of direct damage.
  • The most damaging fires started in an office. Though only 12 percent of business fires began in this location, they caused the most direct property damage (24 percent).

“Staples’ studies show that a majority of employees don’t feel their employers are prepared for any kind of emergency, including fires,” says Bob Risk, the company’s national sales manager for safety. “The truth is, most are, but they haven’t communicated their fire prevention plan well to employees.”

What do you — and your employees — need to know to lower the odds that your office becomes another statistic? It starts with the four P’s of fire prevention: plan, procure, practice and prevent.

1. Plan

“No matter the size of the office or the number of employees, someone should be designated as the safety officer,” says Ernest Grant, chairman of the board of the NFPA. This person leads the creation and execution of the emergency response plan, which includes:

  • Escape Routes and Meeting Places: Determine and mark the fastest and safest paths to safety. Post maps (with “you are here” marks) in breakrooms and near exits — which should be clearly indicated with signs. Put up reminders that elevators cannot be used during most emergencies. Check emergency lighting in stairwells and make sure they aren’t used as storage areas. Create a procedure for evacuating employees and patrons with special needs, especially if the escape route includes stairs. Select a meeting place far enough away from the building to allow full access to the property by firefighters and other emergency personnel.
  • Emergency Procedures: Make sure employees know that the safety officer is in charge during emergencies. Identify by name and title (whenever possible) the people responsible for contacting the fire department, accounting for employees at the meeting place and assisting emergency personnel with information on equipment or chemicals housed in the building. Keep an up-to-date list of emergency contact information. Outline who notifies the next of kin of injured parties, and designate one person to notify emergency responders of people still in the office or unaccounted for.

2. Procure

There are a few specific items you need for fire safety, such as fire extinguishers and smoke alarms — but most commercial buildings are required to have these items installed to meet local building codes. Check with your fire marshal to learn the requirements for your municipality. Test alarms and check extinguisher charges each month; replace/recharge immediately when indicated.

Additional emergency supplies include a stocked first aid kitbottled water and flashlights. “One company we work with supplies every one of their employees with an escape mask,” Risk notes. “That’s important since most people don’t succumb to the fire or the heat, but to smoke inhalation.”

3. Practice

The safety officer also schedules regular fire prevention trainings, refreshers and drills. “When you have a fire or another emergency, it’s an extremely scary, confusing and rushed situation — and many people don’t operate well that way. So it’s almost like you need to be in muscle memory.”

Hold drills and review procedures frequently, and include emergency response information in new employee orientation. Play the alarm to make sure employees know what it sounds like — it can be a beep, a horn and/or an overhead announcement — and what to do when they hear it. Inspect nuisance alarms (like those false alarms from burning popcorn in the microwave) so employees don’t start ignoring the sound. Include real-time shutting down of critical equipment if required by law or regulation in the event of an emergency. Run contests to see how quickly employees can exit their workspace, reminding them that personal items may need to be left behind. Ask the fire department to conduct periodic trainings for all employees on how to use a fire extinguisher.

4. Prevent

Grant, who’s also outreach coordinator for the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, offers these tips for lowering the risk of fire in the first place:

  • Follow manufacturers’ recommendations for maximum volt/wattage load for surge protectorspower strips and adapters, and ask your electrician to periodically inspect these items and outlets for potential overload
  • Replace frayed power cords; never run them under rugs or carpeting, use cord protectors instead
  • Unplug appliances (coffeemakers, microwaves) and other equipment not in use at the end of the day and over the weekend
  • Replace appliances that feel warm or hot to touch
  • Ask the fire marshal to inspect chemical and equipment storage areas periodically to ensure proper ventilation and stowage
  • Store hazardous materials according to manufacturers’ instructions and OSHA regulations. Clearly mark these items to help emergency personnel identify and stabilize them
  • Don’t prop fire doors open or block exits with furniture or boxes
  • Don’t allow paper and other trash to accumulate outside of garbage or recycling receptacles, and never store this material near hot equipment, electrical outlets or the smoking areas
  • Don’t permit employees to burn candles, scented oils, etc., even in their personal work areas

Following the four P’s is the best way to protect your business and your employees. “Having an evacuation plan and practicing a fire drill will ensure that employees know what to do in case of a real fire emergency,” says Bill Mace, who oversees education and outreach for the Seattle Fire Department.

Adds Grant: “This prevents confusion and minimizes the possibility of someone sustaining an injury.”

After all those fire drills in school, too many of us take fire prevention and safety for granted. That’s why it’s crucial for business owners, office managers and safety officers to set the right tone, Risk says. “If you don’t take it seriously, your employees won’t either. I always say, ‘It’s a lot easier to prepare for an emergency than to explain why you didn’t.”

Note: Don’t disregard professional fire prevention and emergency preparedness advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation by fire marshals, insurance agents and others; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult the fire marshal or your insurer if you have specific questions about any fire safety matter. 

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer
Dan Corrigan
Dan Corrigan

Even after 23 years of conducting training, we continue to build our business one satisfied customer at a time. Interest is generated amongst your employees by creating a fun learning atmosphere