What is Confined Space According to OSHA?

What is confined space?

Many workers, such as those from rescue teams, are required to enter enclosed and confined spaces to save animals, and in some cases, even people. This is considered a regular occurrence in their occupation, yet there seems to be very little clarity on exactly what is confined space.

Occupational accidents are quite common if the rescue team has limited knowledge about the area they are about to embark on. Knowing what constitutes a confined space can significantly aid rescue workers because it helps them be better prepared. For that reason, it is a big part of their training as well. 

Once clarity has been brought on about what is confined space, then rescue workers are trained in the necessary procedures pertaining to such small areas. For example, knowing how to unlock or tag out, what safety equipment is required, and what possible air quality may be.

The Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) have thus released a thorough description of what constitutes a confined space. This article will take a detailed look into what it is, and any common misconceptions about these places will all be cleared out. 

What is Confined Space?

Not every small room or tunnel can be called a confined space. In general, it is an area that has very limited spots for entry and exit and one that no humans can inhabit. These spaces also hold considerable amounts of safety risks and hazards, for example, submersion and drowning of an individual in liquids, asphyxiation, harmful dust or gases, and risk of entrapment or electrocution.  

These spaces can include tunnels, the inside of a boiler, a kind of storage tank, an underground electrical vault, and so on. Some of the risks these spaces include are fire, the area collapsing, lack of oxygen, drowning, and entrapment.

OSHA Definition of Confined Space 

The exact definition of a confined space tends to vary according to industries. Some ships are often considered confined spaces, while normal spaces within restaurants and hotels can also be called the same. 

Therefore, due to the variety of spaces, not one area or room can be regarded as confined. Instead, OSHA came up with a set of definitions for confined space. One is a general definition, while the other is a Permit-Required Confined Space (PRCS) definition. To understand what a PRCS is, we must first discuss the general definition. 

General Confined Space

OSHA has a set of requirements that the area must meet to be called a general confined space. These include:

  • The space must be large enough for a worker to enter physically and perform all their tasks
  • Space must also have limited area for entry and exit
  • This space should be designed for continuous employee occupancy 

For a space to be considered a general confined space, it should meet each of these requirements. Suppose an area is large enough for a worker to perform their tasks and has limited entry and exit area but is not designed for continuous occupancy. It will not be considered a general confined space. 

PRCS Confined Space 

If you have determined whether or not you have a confined space, it is time to decide whether or not it is a permit-required confined space or not. This means that the area should also be observed to see if a permit is needed for the rescue team or not. 

Most people believe that a PRCS confined space has bad air quality, but that is not true. Though this is one of the parts of such an area, it is not the only one. OSHA defines a PRCS confined space having at least one of the following:

  • It contains a potentially hazardous atmosphere- for example, the bad air that we discussed
  • Has any material that can engulf and suffocate anyone who enters the area 
  • It is designed so that a person entering the space can get trapped or asphyxiated by converging or collapsing walls and downward slopes. For example, a large tank with a sloping floor
  • Contains a considerably hazardous safety or health risk

Unlike in the case with the definition of general confined space, the PRCS version needs to consist of at least one of these aforementioned requirements. If a confined space has even one of these, the rescue team will need to request a permit in order to access the area. 

If you are still unsure whether a certain area is meeting PRCS requirements, OSHA provides a helpful flow chart that you can use. Take a look at it here

So, What About Confined Spaces in Construction Sites?

These regulations and requirements for both general confined spaces and PRCS confined spaces have been designed specifically for general industries. They are not for areas on construction sites. This brings the question of what is confined space in construction sites. Well, the definitions and precautions of determined these spaces are based on the original 1910 regulation.

This regulation includes providing ample education and training to construction site workers to determine confined spaces and what precautions to take when you find yourself there. Each employer holds the responsibility of training these workers with all the necessary information they need regarding confined spaces.

Common Misconceptions

One of the most common misconceptions when defining confined spaces is that it is believed it should have only one entry or exit site. However, after reading the definitions, you might understand that this is not true. The definition states that it should rather be limited. Limited could mean any number of openings in the area, you will need to evaluate each space yourself to determine what limited openings are.

Final Words

This was everything you needed to know about how OSHA defines confined spaces. If you are interested in becoming part of a rescue team, you can take a look at the nation’s best and most efficient rescue teams, DCS rescue. Visit our website to learn more about becoming part of the team. But first, we recommend you go through our guide to find out exactly what it takes to be part of a technical rescue team.