It sounds like the start of a good story; a child falls into a well and the town mobilizes to rescue them. Heroes rise up and villains fall. Real people who fall into wells do get rescued, and sometimes its in time. Sometimes there is a villain who failed to protect the public from danger. Sometimes there is no villain in the story, just a forgotten well dug on land that has changed ownership enough times to allow people to lose track of what’s there. There is always a hero though. And the heroes of these rescue stories have usually had confined space training.
Is a confined space always a well, or perhaps a coal mine? One definition is an area of restricted space which is hazardous because of the lack or air and light, and this definition applies to a lot more locations than just wells and coal mines. A drain pipe or air conditioning vent would qualify. Surprisingly, an orchestra pit in a theater, a large freezer or oven, a boiler or a tank that typically contains liquids or chemicals and occasionally needs to be emptied and cleaned also qualify.
As noted in previous blogs, some of these confined spaces require permits for entry, which should be controlled, and ignoring this responsibility has its price. But what about confined spaces that don’t require permits, or confined spaces an employer never even considered a danger? An accident can happen anywhere. If a problem arises many employers rely on local fire departments to step into the role of hero and perform a rescue because of their training and expertise. Employers may not realize their own responsibility to provide confined space training to employees, but this may be changing.
Since 2003 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been working on a confined space standard for the construction industry and they hope to release the standard this year. (See Confined Space Rule for Construction Is Near Completion, OSHA Official Reports, Thursday, June 14, 2012, from the Occupational Safety & Health Report) OSHA believes this standard will reduce confined space fatalities by 90%.
A standard on confined spaces, even if in another industry, could eventually mean new safety requirements for all employers to meet, but why wait for that? All employees should have the necessary knowledge to ensure they are safe and secure in any work they do in a confined space. An employee with the right training could become a hero, because a person in danger shouldn’t have to wait to be rescued. If you manage people who work in confined spaces, you should consider confined space training for your employees today.