Approach Management

ToolBox Talks: Confined Spaces

A confined space does not necessarily mean a small, enclosed space. It could be rather large, such as a ship's hold, or a crawlspace or even an attic. A confined space is large enough to allow an employee to enter and perform work, it has limited means of entry or exit such as entry may be obtained through small or large openings and usually, there is only one way in and out and the confined space and it is not used for continuous or routine work.



A construction foreman died from asphyxiation after entering a manhole with an uncontrolled hazardous atmosphere. Construction workers were working on an inactive sewer system that was shut-down for over a week. A few minutes after they started working, the crew noticed that the foreman was missing and a manhole cover was removed. While one worker called emergency services, a second worker entered the manhole to assist the foreman and found him unresponsive at the bottom of the 20 ft. manhole. When the second worker became disoriented inside the anhole, another worker used a fan to blow fresh air into the manhole and the worker was able to climb out. The foreman was retrieved by fire department personnel and was later pronounced dead, due to asphyxiation.


Likely Causes of Incident:
Although the manhole was newly constructed and not yet connected to an active sewer system at the time of this incident, it contained a hazardous atmosphere that resulted in asphyxiation. 


Testing procedures were not conducted to ensure that atmospheric hazards were identified and precautions for safe operations were not implemented before starting work at the site. Workers were not trained to recognize confined space hazards and to take appropriate protective measures. The atmosphere in the manhole was not assessed to determine if conditions were acceptable before or during entry. Proper ventilation was not used to control atmospheric hazards in the manhole.


Proper confined space procedures were not followed.


Working in or around a confined space is a serious hazard. There are no short cuts. 


All confined spaces are categorized into two main groups: alternate and permit-required.


Permit-required confined spaces must have signs posted outside stating that entry requires a permit. Generally, these spaces contain serious health and safety threats including: oxygen deficient or enriched atmospheres, flammable atmospheres, toxic atmospheres, mechanical or physical hazards or loose materials that can engulf or smother a worker. 


An alternate confined space means NO hazards exist or could exist, that means none!


Never enter any confined space until you have been instructed by your supervisor as to the proper procedures that need to be followed. It is required that you follow your company's confined space program. Never assume, STOP, always ask the question. 


Let’s be safe out there!!


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