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In many workplaces, including those in the oil and natural gas industries, confined spaces are job hazards. They present some of the most dangerous places to be when something goes wrong, and can become sites for lethal accidents. Properly monitoring a confined space for gas is an important step in protecting workers, but there’s a right way to do it. Here are things to keep in mind when you use gas detectors in confined spaces, according to OSHA requirements.

Defining Confined Spaces

A confined space is an area that’s not easy to enter or escape. There are limited ways to access confined spaces, and while they’re appropriate sizes and configurations for employees to enter, they’re not intended for continuous or long-term occupancy. A permit-required confined space has these requirements and a few additional ones.

These spaces have the potential to contain hazardous atmospheres, material that can engulf workers, a layout that could lead to becoming trapped or asphyxiated, and other recognized health and safety risks, depending on the industry and OSHA standards for the job site. Entering and working in confined spaces require additional safety measures.

Make sure you and your workers know the OSHA standards and recommendations for your industry and job site. This includes a working knowledge of the terms and definitions required to talk about your work. Mistakes can be decreased and even eliminated with a thorough knowledge of OSHA safety standards for confined spaces and different job sites.

Using a Gas Monitor in a Confined Space

Multi-gas monitors, which can detect dangerous levels of various toxic or combustible gases in confined spaces, are important parts of any air-monitoring program. Many gases are colorless and odorless, but even the ones that can be recognized by smell can have a paralyzing effect on the senses and make you unable to detect any changes — and by that time, the levels likely already are dangerous. The only way to tell what you’re dealing with is by using gas-detection equipment that detects gases known to be risks on your job site. Gas monitors are designed to detect atmospheric hazards that could be present on a job site at levels below the exposure limits identified on work permits.

Gas monitors aren’t going to help if you’re not properly trained to use them. Everyone on your job site should be trained on operations, procedures and ways to minimize risk, given the dangers. An accident can happen to anyone, no matter how experienced the person is. Gas-monitor manufacturers provide a variety of training options for their gas monitors, and safety experts such as those at PK Safety can give you advice as well.

When and How to Test the Atmosphere

Enclosed spaces should have their atmospheres tested and monitored according to the steps identified on a permit developed during evaluation testing. The atmosphere in a workspace must be done with confined-space air-monitoring and testing equipment, and test results and concentrations must be recorded on the permit so they can be compared with the levels required for safe entry. Safe atmospheric conditions depend on the industry, and testing results should be reviewed by a qualified professional who knows about the hazards on your worksite and will give you a complete evaluation and review.

Gas monitors are small and light enough to be worn continuously while working, and should be worn by workers at all times. Test for oxygen content, flammable gases and vapors, and toxic air contaminants with a properly calibrated monitor before an employee enters or reenters the workspace after 20 minutes as well as the entire time they’re working, to stay ahead of potential changes. If a workspace has the potential to contain gases that could stratify, test at the top, middle and bottom of the confined space at 4-foot intervals. Test in 4-foot areas around the worker as well, and move sample probes slowly enough to complete testing properly before moving on. Add extra time for gas monitors to respond if you have attached hosing or other extensions to the monitors.

Know what your emergency procedures are before a hazardous gas-level danger arises. Job-site attendants should keep their attention exclusively on the safety of the confined worker, and stay outside of the confined space. They should monitor atmospheric readings and know the hazards of exposure, including symptoms. When an accident happens, they should implement the emergency rescue plan, including calling for help, ventilating the confined space with forced air from a clean source, operating mechanical retrieval systems, and maintaining contact. No one should re-enter a hazardous space until the dangerous conditions are completely gone.

The Care and Keeping of Multi-Gas Monitors

A gas-detector maintenance program can ensure you extend the life of your monitors and keep yourself and your workers safer for longer. A working gas monitor is the only way to ensure atmospheric hazards are properly detected and workers immediately alerted to dangerous conditions. Don’t bump test instruments in an environment that has an excessive amount of the gas in question; that could lead to inaccurate and negative readings in an actual job situation. Perform bump tests with a known level of gas to verify sensor accuracy; any instruments that fail this test should be adjusted with a full calibration.

PK Safety Can Help You Keep Your Air Clean

Following OSHA requirements for confined spaces is key to staying safe on the job. No one knows about safety — in confined spaces and otherwise — better than PK Safety. We’ve been a safety leader for decades. We have respirators, filters, detectors and other equipment designed to keep you safe wherever you are, and the expert knowledge to give you the advice you need for a worksite or project. Get in touch online or by phone at 800.829.9580 to talk to a safety expert about your workplace or equipment.