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What is a Confined Space Entry Permit?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Any area that an employee can fit into but which presents limited ingress or egress is considered a confined space that requires a confined space entry permit. The permit, used in many countries, includes an extensive evaluation of any hazards present in the area, measures taken to minimize the danger, and rescue procedures if something goes wrong. A confined space entry permit is a written document that helps ensure the safety of employees from atmospheric or physical hazards in the workplace, such as mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the US.

This type of permit is needed when an employee or contractor performs work in a zone not designed for human occupation, such as silos, storage tanks, sewers, or pits. The permit may address hazards such as those from gases or fumes, or the risk of a person becoming trapped in a cave-in. Any danger that exists or may develop during each entry should be addressed in the confined space entry permit.

Employers are required to devise a comprehensive program to protect anyone who enters a small area to perform repairs or maintenance. The plan addresses testing the location before anyone is allowed in, and adequate measures to reduce potential hazards. Under the law, safety equipment is mandatory for entrance, including harnesses and retrieval lines to quickly evacuate anyone in danger. The employer must also protect against unauthorized entry or accidental entry by barricading the hazardous spot and posting a warning sign.

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OSHA outlines a precise series of steps required for a confined space entry permit that must be documented in writing for each occurrence. The air in the passage is tested for oxygen content, the presence of flammable gases or vapors, and toxic gases or vapors. Employees should have access to the test results before entry, and be provided details about ventilation devices that will be used. The law requires periodic testing while the employee is working, in case atmospheric conditions change.

For physical hazards in a confined space, the permit lists the types of barricades or other safety measures in place. This applies to hazards that may occur from solid or liquid materials that might engulf the work area. These precautions protect a worker who can be asphyxiated within four minutes in an unprotected space, causing death or brain damage.

Employees commonly wear self-contained breathing apparatuses to protect them from toxic fumes or gases in the restricted zone. The confined space entry permit requires a body harness with a retrieval line connected to a mechanism outside the location to facilitate a speedy rescue. If a body harness would impede movement, wristlets may be substituted. Safety equipment must be provided at no cost to the employee or contractor performing the job, the law states.

A confined space entry permit requires at least one trained person posted outside the entrance to communicate with the workers and handle any unforeseen emergency. The attendant is responsible for alerting rescue crews and prohibiting unauthorized persons from entering the area. OSHA mandates that the attendant's sole duty is monitoring employee safety during the task.

The permit itself defines the space entered, names who went in, and states the purpose of the entry. The date and duration of the operation is also required, along with a list of hazards that existed and how they were mitigated. Permits also document test results, protective equipment used, and the name of the person who authorized entry.

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