When working in a confined space, it’s necessary to monitor the atmosphere so that you can keep track of several important factors pertaining to hazardous gasses that must be considered and managed. These factors include what kind of air your workers are breathing, whether a gas present is explosive or toxic, and how to keep your workers safe. So, let’s talk about confined spaces and gas detection equipment necessary for the safest work environment possible.
First, let’s touch on what is considered a confined space and the OSHA requirements every worker must adhere to. In particular, OSHA defines a confined space as,
- A space with adequate size and configuration for employee entry.
- Has limited means of accessing or exiting the space.
- The space is not designed for continuous employee occupancy.
Examples of confined spaces include sewers, silos, or coal mines—places someone can get into in order to provide maintenance or perform a task, but they are not places you’d want to have an extended stay in. Additionally, there are some confined spaces that OSHA requires a permit for if they meet one or more of these characteristics:
- Contains or has the potential to contain hazardous material.
- Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing the entrant.
- Has an internal configuration that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section.
- Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazards.
Once you have recognized the conditions of your confined space and identified any possible gas hazards, you’ll need to prepare your workers so that they are able to take the necessary precautions and procedures to help ensure their own safety.
While having gas detection equipment is a good first step, it won’t be much help if your workers don’t have the practical knowledge to properly operate and maintain the equipment. Some manufacturers of gas monitors will provide your workers with the hands-on training and practice of using the equipment, but a good training regime will include these valuable topics:
- The most obvious, of course, is teaching your workers how to identify hazardous gases. Make sure your workers are aware of the most common hazardous gases encountered within confined spaces, including the deficiency or enrichment of oxygen levels, as that itself may become an asphyxiation or explosive hazard.
- For confined spaces that require a permit, make sure your workers are able to review the regulations set by OSHA so that your confined spaces meet all of the necessary safety and legal requirements.
- As for when it comes to operating the actual equipment, there are various sensors your workers must know how to use to monitor the condition of a confined space, such as catalytic diffusion, electrochemical, or infrared sensors. Knowing how each sensor works will also help you obtain the correct sensors to suit your confined space’s circumstances.
- Similarly, your workers need to have hands-on practice with necessary instrumentation to make sure they understand their functions and appliances, such as calibration stations and docking systems. Knowing how to handle these instruments and properly maintain them will elongate their lifespan.
As OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.146(c) subsection (C) states, an employee cannot enter a space before the internal atmosphere has been tested with a calibrated direct-reading instrument for the following conditions in this specific order: (1) oxygen content, (2) flammable gases and vapors, and (3) potential toxic air contaminants.
Additionally, as part of subsection (D), no employee may ever enter a confined space that has been confirmed to have a hazardous atmosphere. This also applies if a hazardous atmosphere enters the confined space while an employee is occupying it, and they must evacuate immediately.
These safety regulations make gas detection equipment an absolute necessity and dictates that a confined space will be constantly monitored even after initial testing has deemed a confined space’s atmosphere as safe.
If a hazardous atmosphere is found, you must then follow OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.146(c) subsection (E) which reads: Continuous forced air ventilation shall be used, as follows: (1) An employee may not enter the space until the forced air ventilation has eliminated any hazardous atmosphere; (2) The forced air ventilation shall be so directed as to ventilate the immediate areas where an employee will be present within the space and shall continue until all employees have left the space; (3) The air supply for the forced air ventilation shall be from a clean source and may not increase the hazards of the space.
Automated Instrument Docking System
A useful instrument when considering confined spaces and gas detection equipment is an automated instrument docking system. These instruments carry a myriad of useful functions, including:
- Automated calibration and bump testing. As previously stated, OSHA regulations mandate that the only way to safely detect a hazardous atmosphere is with a “calibrated direct-reading instrument.” An automated docking system is capable of calibrating itself with a single button push, saving your workers the trouble of manually calibrating their monitors.
- These systems are also beneficial for keeping track of your records. Docking systems will automatically record and store away information like bump and calibration records. Datalogging information is logged and stored away with the event-logging mode should an incident or significant event occur.
- Additionally, these docking systems double as a recharging station for your monitors when they are not in use. This will ensure you never accidentally enter a confined space with a dead monitor.
- Lastly, some automated systems are capable of instrument diagnostics. These diagnostics will help with the maintenance of your monitor equipment by alerting you of aspects such as a low sensor life, the date of the last calibration, and when your equipment is due for calibration.
Further on the topic of equipment maintenance, there are a few services and practices you can make use of to keep your equipment in the best condition possible and ensure your equipment is functioning correctly when used on the job. Some of these services and practices include:
- In-house calibration and service will make sure you have professionals on-hand to optimize your equipment and provide servicing when necessary.
- Regular maintenance and warranty repair will keep your monitor fleet operating for an extended lifespan, making it important to familiarize yourself with each piece of equipment so you know what to look for during maintenance.
- On-site mobile service and repair will keep a professional technician on-site so that any sudden technical issues can be quickly resolved, helping eliminate downtime by having immediate assistance.
- Instrument rentals and leasing options, when available, are beneficial for fulfilling your work in a timely manner when projects are bigger than the instrumentation you have in-house. These rentals will ensure you have all the proper equipment you need to meet regulations without a major expense on your part.