No worker should enter a confined space without the proper support team in place. There are 3 main members to a confined space team. The first, and the one at highest risk, is the entrant. Before going in, the entrant needs to have direct authorization from their employer to enter the space. The OSHA Confined Space standard states that the entrant must:
- Know the hazards associated with confined space entry, and in particular, the hazards associated with the PRCS being entered.
- Know how to use all required equipment.
- Know the procedures for communication with the attendant.
- Know how to alert the attendant of hazardous or prohibited conditions.
- Know how to exit the space if necessary (that is, self rescue).
The second party of the confined space team is the attendant. There must be at least one attendant on each PRCS team. The attendant, arguably has the most amount of responsibility on the confined space team, as they have the highest number of duties required by OSHA. These duties are to:
- Know the hazards. In the case of the attendant, this can often include using air monitoring equipment to keep a close watch on the atmospheric conditions inside the confined space and communicate any changes observed.
- Know the behavioral effects of the hazards.
- Be able to identify the authorized entrants.
- Remain outside until relieved.
- Communicate with entrants through out the work period.
- Monitor and evacuate entrants if necessary.
- Summon rescue, if needed.
- Warn away unauthorized persons.
- Warn away unauthorized persons.
It is often believed that the only job of the attendant is to stand around outside the entry space and provide assistance to the entrant only if he or she gets in trouble or needs assistance. But, as you can see from the list above, the attendant is required to be much more proactive than that.
The third and last required party on a PRCS team is the entry supervisor. In most cases, the entry supervisor is the employer or directly represents the employer. It is a good idea for this person to be trained and ready to serve as an entrant or attendant if need be, as well. The entry supervisor is responsible for determining whether acceptable entry conditions exist, authorizing the entry, overseeing entry operations, terminating the entry, and canceling the entry permit. Per the OSHA regulation, the entry supervisor must:
- Know the hazards.
- Verify safe entry conditions.
- Terminate entry and cancel permit.
- Verify availability and effectiveness of rescue services.
- Remove unauthorized persons.
- Ensure acceptable entry conditions are maintained.
Because confined spaces are so inherently dangerous, especially the permit-required confined spaces that would necessitate a team like this, it is very important that each member understand and have the proper training to perform each of their respective duties. This process, and these individual responsibilities, have been developed over time as the safest way to reduce and respond to the hazards that can quickly present themselves in these dangerous environments.
It is imperative that PRCS team members be properly trained on the potential hazards that exist in confined spaces, and how to respond and protect themselves to ensure a high degree of safety. At a minimum, this should include awareness level training, but with permit-required spaces that have a higher probability of presenting hazards to workers, a competent person level of training is recommended. More information on this standard can be found on OSHAs webpage for the regulation.
Below is a visual aid that you can use to quickly break down the individual duties of each member of a permit-required confined space entry team: