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Are there equipment differences between working at heights and confined spaces?

Making sure you have the proper equipment for the right job not only saves time but potentially saves money as well. You don’t want to have unnecessary equipment or provide the possibility of an employee using the wrong equipment on a job.

When it comes to working at heights and confined spaces there are several similarities and differences when it comes to the equipment needed.

The first similarity is that the employee needs a full body harness when working in each situation. There is the risk to fall in most situations at heights and in confined spaces. You need a device that can arrest your fall if a fall can occur. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a full body harness in standard 1926.500(b) as the following: “straps which may be secured about the employee in a manner that will distribute the fall arrest forces over at least the thighs, pelvis, waist, chest and shoulders with means for attaching it to other components of a personal fall arrest system.”

They also state that “this definition does not exclude the use of a waist or chest strap as part of the full body harness as long as the harness properly distributes the fall arrest forces. Also, section 1926.502(d)(16) requires the “system” (as a whole) to limit the maximum arresting force on an employee to 1,800 pounds (8 kN.)”

A self-retracting lifeline or lanyard that can arrest a fall is also needed in both situations. OSHA defines a self-retracting lifeline in standard 1910.140 as the following: “Self-retracting lifeline/lanyard means a deceleration device containing a drum-wound line that can be slowly extracted from, or retracted onto, the drum under slight tension during normal movement by the employee. At the onset of a fall, the device automatically locks the drum and arrests the fall.”

For more information from OSHA on self-retracting lifelines and lanyards click here.

First, you need to look at what is a confined space. OSHA defines a confined space in standard 1910.146(b) as the following:

(1) Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work; and

(2) Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit (for example, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, and pits are spaces that may have limited means of entry.); and

(3) Is not designed for continuous employee occupancy.

For more information from OSHA on confined spaces click here.

An example of a confined space would be if you’re entering into a manhole or a tank. Essentially any work area with limited or challenging entry or exit is considered a confined space.

Depending on the environment, a gas monitor may be required for an employee to wear on their body. Confined spaces are known to hold deadly gases, sometimes undetectable by sight, smell or feel.

If you are going into a manhole you do not want your employee to be exposed and potentially have gas poisoning.

In the event if you were to have any worker inside of a confined space, a plan for rescue and necessary equipment should be available and ready to deploy quickly. A widely used example of this is a rescue tripod. Rescue tripods are equipped with devices of fall arrest as well as retrieval devices.

 A confined space retrieval system tripod is positioned directly over the entry and exit to the confined space.The tripod typically has a rescue winch attached to it. This could double as a rescue lifeline. The winch would be attached to the tripod and the worker would attach it with a dorsal ring to their full body harness. If the person fell or was down, another worker outside of the confined space could then crank them up out of the confined space.

Working in a confined space requires a high level of attention and the ability to respond very quickly when needed. Some facilities have dedicated and specially trained staff to provide prompt action on the rescue plan at a moment’s notice. There are also some safety professionals that are confined space specialists and work just with confined spaces. Confined space rescue services are also generally available in most locations throughout the United States.

Although there is some crossover in the equipment needed to work at heights and to work in confined spaces, the difference mostly lies in the rescue and/or retrieval portion. OSHA regulations address these separately, so two separate plans should be established.

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