What is a Confined Space?

What Defines a Confined Space?

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) defines a confined space as any space that is:

1. large enough for an employee to enter and perform work

2. has limited or restricted means for entry or exit

3. is not designed for continuous occupancy

Examples of confined spaces could be vats and tanks, farm silos, wells, and boilers. Open ditches or trenches can also be confined spaces if entry or exit is limited.

There are two types of confined spaces in regards to workplace safety: “permit-required” and “non-permit” confined spaces. The following chart illustrates the differences between the two:

  Permit-Required Confined Spaces Non-Permit Confined Spaces
Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant
Could trap or asphyxiate an entrant with inwardly converging walls
Could trap or asphyxiate an entrant with a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section
Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard
Contains hazards capable of causing death or serious physical harm

From the chart above we can see that permit-required confined spaces can be extremely dangerous for workers, while non-permit confined spaces are not considered life-threatening.

This doesn’t mean precautionary steps shouldn’t be taken before entering a non-permit space. Safety is essential no matter what the conditions are and because there is still the possibility of an injury occurring, only authorized personnel should enter the space.

OSHA states that if the workplace contains permit spaces, the employer shall inform exposed employees by posting danger signs, or by any other equally effective means, making them aware of the existence, location of, and the danger posed by the permit spaces.

Employers should post OSHA compliant confined space signs to alert workers of the potentially hazardous area, along with providing the right personal protective equipment and training to workers who must enter such a space.

Why do I need confined space signs?

Confined space signs are essential to any employer’s confined space safety plan. These signs alert workers to the hazard of being trapped in a confined space and display important policy information. Learn more...

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