SAFETY FIRST: Confined space permits

With the winter months comes scheduled maintenance and repair for asphalt plants in Virginia. While operations are on hold until the warmer months, companies have a chance to address issues at the asphalt plant that couldn’t be taken care of during the busy season and perform the yearly maintenance necessary to keep the plant running efficiently during the paving season. Whether cleaning out the drum, servicing the drag conveyor, or replacing silo cone liners, there are many non-routine and unfamiliar tasks to be completed this time of year. With these tasks, many risks must be addressed through proper training, planning, and risk assessment.

One hazard that confronts us during the colder months that we may not face any other time of year is confined space. OSHA defines confined space as 1) being large enough for an employee to enter and perform work, 2) has limited or restricted means for entry or exit, and 3) is not designed for continuous occupancy. As you can see, much of the work we do at the asphalt plant in the winter falls under this broad definition. Furthermore, OSHA defines a permit-required confined space as having one of the following characteristics:

– Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere;
– Contains a material with the potential to engulf someone who enters the space;
– 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; and/or
– Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazards.

It is important to plan and identify tasks that require a confined space permit so that the necessary measures can be taken to make sure you comply with OSHA regulations and keep everyone safe on the job. The first step in handling a permit-required confined space is to acquire an entry permit, which can be found online or by contacting OSHA. This permit, along with proper training, will be your guide to a successful confined space entry. Companies should also contact their local fire department to let them know when they will be performing any confined space entry. If there is an accident, prior notification will allow the fire department to come prepared for confined space rescue. Another item that you will need is an atmospheric monitor, which will sound an alarm to alert employees if conditions inside the confined space deteriorate.

Finally, one of the best ways to prevent accidents on any job site is a risk assessment. Before beginning any work, everyone involved in winter maintenance should take time to identify all of the hazards present as well as the tools and PPE that are required for safe execution of the job. Until all the hazards are addressed and a plan is in place to mitigate these hazards, no work should begin. While your list of maintenance activities for this offseason may be long, it is imperative that you slow down and take time to plan, train and properly assess the risk.