Safety Q&A: What Atmospheric Testing Steps Should We Take for Confined Spaces?

Safety Q&A: What Atmospheric Testing Steps Should We Take for Confined Spaces?

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Confined working spaces in construction can hide unforeseen hazards in the air. Employees may not be aware of risks because they are not visible to the naked eye.

Last month, a 33-Year-Old Welder Died after he crawled 40 feet inside a steel pipe. He had been welding a joint on the pipe’s exterior, then decided to enter the pipe and troubleshoot concerns with an argon gas leak. Sadly, he was ultimately found unresponsive by co-workers.

Such stories are preventable. Toxic and explosive gases, vapors and fumes are key concerns in confined spaces. To combat these dangers, atmospheric testing is essential. Employees should be given proper training to recognize hazards and how to use air monitoring devices.

Here are four key processes to have in place for atmospheric testing:

Test air monitoring equipment before use

Employees should be certain their testing device is working before ever testing the environment. If you haven’t confirmed the device is accurately evaluating the air, you run the risk of feeling safe when you’re actually using a non-functional device. Always perform bump or function testing before beginning work to make sure your testing device is properly performing.

Test, test, and re-test

OSHA regulations require you to continuously test the environment because conditions can quickly change. Your initial test is the base and should be used to compare periodic tests. Monitoring as you work is the surest way to check that atmospheric conditions have not changed or are improving.

Train employees how to properly use equipment

Handing someone a gas detector or similar instrument does not make them proficient. They need to know the data codes, various alarms and other functions of the device.

Give employees the means to be successful and properly train them. Reach out to the company you purchased the device from or find online training. Companies such as MSA offer comprehensive training. You could also train key employees on atmospheric testing, and then they can train subsequent staff.

Ventilate the space

Removing dangerous gasses present can be accomplished by providing a high volume of fresh air to the location. Fans are the most common and easiest way to ventilate, yet this is another area where proper training is a must. Managers must understand how much airflow is needed or pockets of bad air could develop.

One final note – In addition to atmospheric testing and ventilation, confined spaces come with a long list of concerns. Pre-planning, proper setup and emergency plans are all part of reducing risk. If you’d like to talk further, please reach out to me.


By Aaron Paris, CSP, ASP, Director of Safety, The Miller Group

See Also:
Safety Q&A: How Do We Safeguard Emergency Exits & Routes?
Safety Q&A; What’s the Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke?


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