Some jobs, by their very nature, pose a high risk to the health and safety of workers. Among them is working in a confined space.
While the dangers are significant, the steps to protect workers are simple. Employees must recognize and address potential perils.
What are the dangers?
A confined work space is one without easy entrance or exit. Workers may be only a few feet from safety. They often are working in water towers, grain silos, vaults, and storage bins. People laboring in trenches and temporary structures also are in peril.
Hazards include exposure to toxic gases, the lack of oxygen and extreme temperatures. Workers run the risk of losing consciousness or becoming trapped by a cave-in or collapse.
Employees in confined spaces often are alone, meaning no one is aware they are in danger until it is too late. The small work space also can make efforts to rescue them difficult.
How can employers lessen the dangers?
The very nature of working in a confined space is dangerous. Still, employers are responsible for providing the safest working environment possible. They should assess the risks and take steps to protect their workers. Some of them include:
- The identification of exit and entrance barriers
- The maintenance of ventilation systems
- The creation of rescue protocols
- The access to rescue equipment
- The monitoring of workers
- The regular review of working conditions
Employees injured in confined work spaces have the right to seek workers’ compensation. Cases often come down to assigning blame – with the employee and worker pointing fingers at each other. The laws also are complex if you are not familiar with the process.
How can employees protect themselves?
Workers can boost their own safety by taking common sense precautions. They also can report potential risks to their employer.
If the employer fails to take action, workers can alert their union or safety regulators. Some employers, it seems, are negligent, accepting danger as part of the cost of doing business.