Confined Space Program

Welding in a confined space; www.mcaa.org

Confined spaces may contain hazards that can injure workers or quickly lead to death. Untrained and ill-equipped rescuers can easily become victims themselves. UW departments, supported by EH&S, must follow the requirements of the Confined Space Program to ensure personnel working in or near confined spaces are protected from harm.

The Confined Space Program applies to any UW department that has space(s) that may potentially be hazardous when entered. A confined space is one configured so that a person can fully enter and work, but is not designed for continuous human occupancy and has restricted or limited means of entry or exit.

Examples of confined spaces at UW may include, but aren't limited to:

  • Boilers

  • Sewers

  • Vessels and tanks

  • Attics, plenums and crawlspaces

  • Storage bins

  • Lift stations

  • Utility vaults

  • Air handling units

  • Sumps and pits

  • Cooling towers

  • Excavations

  • Tunnels and pipelines

Permit-Required Confined Spaces (PRCS) may contain a hazardous atmosphere, engulfment hazards or other hazards, such as electrical, mechanical and fall from a height. These spaces require entry permits that address the hazards, mitigations and required approvals.

Hazards may also be introduced by activities performed inside the space. Use of chemicals, painting, cleaning, grinding or sanding all create atmospheric hazards that can cause injury or illness without adequate ventilation or other controls. Hot work (e.g., welding, cutting, grinding, or brazing) in a confined space may release toxic gases and fumes.

Elements of the Confined Space Program

The University’s Confined Space Program includes:

If a department or contractor needs to enter a confined space, they must contact the Confined Space Owner for more information about the space.

What you need to know

What you can do to stay safe

Always be current with your confined space training and ask questions if unsure about any hazards in a confined space, hazards introduced from doing work in a confined space, entry procedures or potential problems that may occur.

  • Never enter a confined space if you are unsure of the hazards, procedures and equipment, or if you feel ill.
  • As an Entrant, communicate with the Entry Supervisor and/or Attendant(s) about the status of your work in the confined space and how you feel.
  • Understand and communicate to others not to enter spaces that are posted with PRCS signage.
  • If you suspect a space meets the definition of a PRCS (see definition below), do not enter the space. Notify your supervisor.

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Services available


Wind tunnel outside Aerospace & Engineering Research Building

EH&S provides the following services:

  • Training for employees who may enter a PRCS
  • Assists departments/units/organizations with developing, maintaining and improving their confined space entry procedures
  • Assists departments with air monitoring and testing of unusual contaminants or situations

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Entry is when a person passes through an opening into a permit-required confined space. Entry includes doing work activities in the space and occurs when any part of the body (arms, hands, head, torso) breaks the plane of the opening into the space.

If a space has limited or restricted means of entry or exit, an entrant's ability to escape in an emergency would be hindered. The dimensions of a door and its location are factors in determining whether an entrant can easily escape. However, the simple presence of a door may not mean that the space is not a confined space. For example, a space such as a bag house or crawl space that has a door leading into it, but also has pipes, conduits, ducts, equipment or materials that an employee would have to crawl over, under or squeeze around to escape, has limited or restricted means of exit. A piece of equipment with an access door, such as a conveyor feed, a drying oven or a paint spray enclosure, may also have restricted means of entry or exit if an employee has to crawl to gain access to their work location. Similarly, an access door or portal that is too small for an employee to walk through upright and unimpeded may restrict an employee's ability to escape.

Designed for Human Occupancy means the space is designed for a person to occupy the area under normal operating conditions and is intended as a place of work.

When all physical hazards have been eliminated in a PRCS and all atmospheric hazards have been either eliminated or controlled by continuous ventilation the space may be entered using Alternative Methods and documenting the entry with PCRS Entry Form Part A. If any hazard is present it is a “Permit” entry and PCRS Entry Form Part A & B must be used to enter the space which requires an Attendant and a rescue plan.

Engulfment means the surrounding and effective capture of a person by a liquid or finely divided (flowable) solid substance that can be breathed in and cause death by filling or plugging the respiratory system, or that can exert enough force on the body to cause death by strangulation, constriction or crushing. Engulfment hazards include any “flowable” materials, such as water, product or chemical.

Flowable material (e.g., gas, liquids, fine solids) hazards must be isolated by physical disconnect, blinding or blanking of interconnected piping; or a risk assessment must be completed that provides equal protection. Isolation with a single valve is not acceptable as valves can fail.

More information

Glossary

An alternative process for entering a permit space under very specific conditions; these methods include documentation showing the elimination of any physical hazards and elimination or control of any actual or potential atmospheric hazards.

An individual stationed outside the permit space who monitors the authorized entrants and who performs all attendants’ duties assigned in the permit space program

The absolute closure of a pipe, line or duct by fastening a solid plate that completely covers the bore and that is capable of withstanding the maximum pressure of the pipe, line or duct with no leakage beyond the plate.

A space that meets the following criteria:

  • Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work
  • Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit
  • Is not designed for continuous human occupancy

The department or individual who owns, controls access, and/or has administrative control over a confined space and understands the chemical and physical hazards associated with it.

The surrounding capture of a person by a liquid or finely divided (flowable) solid substance that can be inhaled to cause death by filling or plugging the respiratory system or that can exert enough force on the body to cause death by strangulation, constriction or crushing

Employee who is authorized to enter a permit space

Action by which a person passes through an opening into a permit-required confined space and includes work activities in that space. Entry occurs as soon as any part of the entrant’s body breaks the plane of the opening into the space.

The written or printed document provided by UW allowing and controlling entry into a permit space

The person (such as the supervisor, foreman or crew chief) responsible for:

  • Determining if acceptable entry conditions are present at a permit space where entry is planned
  • Authorizing entry and overseeing entry operations
  • Terminating entry as required by this section

An atmosphere that may expose employees to the risk of death, incapacitation, impairment of ability to self-rescue, injury, or acute illness from one or more of the following:

  • Flammable gas, vapor, or mist in excess of 10 percent of its lower explosive limit (LEL)
  • Airborne combustible dust at a concentration that meets or exceeds its LEL
  • Atmospheric oxygen concentration below 19.5 percent or above 23.5 percent
  • Atmospheric concentration of any substance for which may exceed a permissible exposure limit
  • Any other atmospheric condition that is immediately dangerous to life or health

Any condition that poses an immediately or delayed threat to life or what would cause irreversible adverse health effects or that would interfere with an individual’s ability to escape unaided from a permit space

The process by which a permit space is removed from service and completely protected against the release of energy and material into the space by such means as: blanking or blinding; misaligning or removing sections of lines, pipes or ducts; a double block and bleed system; lockout or tagout of all sources of energy, including hydraulic or electric; or blocking or disconnecting all mechanical linkages

A permit-required confined space has one or more of the following characteristics. Special plans, procedures, and permits need to be followed before, during, and after entry into the space:

  • Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
  • Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant
  • Has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor, which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section
  • Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard

Equipment used for non-entry rescue of persons from a permit space, such as a retrieval line, full-body harness, wristlets, and a lifting device or anchor