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Confined spaces in sewers and protections for workers inside

As a worker who goes into confined spaces, it's important that you take care of yourself and make sure the area is safe enough for you to enter. You don't want to find that there is no exit if your main exit closes or is impassable, and you don't want to be trapped because the passage suddenly shifts oddly or gets too small.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has developed construction standards for confined spaces in order to help protect the workers exposed to these elements. To start with, workers must only be able to enter a confined workspace after it has been properly prepared. A competent person needs to review the space and evaluate it. The space must be identified, and if it requires a permit, that permit needs to be issued before anyone can enter.

The air inside the confined space must be tested. A primary concern is a low level of oxygen, as this could make workers pass out or result in fatalities due to suffocation. The air should also be checked for toxic and flammable substances, since these can also result in injuries. As an ongoing safety procedure, the area must continue to be monitored for dangerous fumes or low oxygen levels. Other hazards or potential hazards must also be monitored throughout the length of the project.

Employers must also train each and every employee who will be in or around the confined space. Workers may not enter these spaces without authorization for their own protection, and only trained personnel can attempt entry rescues when required.

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "Confined Spaces in Construction: Sewer Systems," accessed July 21, 2015

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