Confined Spaces in Agriculture - what do you need to know?
Do you have any of the following on your farm or ranch?
- Grain bin
- Manure storage facilities
- Hopper bottom feed bins
- Grain transport vehicles
- Septic tanks
- Fertilizer storage tanks
- Fermentation tanks
If you have any of these examples, read on as you are dealing with confined spaces and you need to know how to be safe working in these.
A confined space is described by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States (US) as having the following characteristics:
- a space that is accessible to a worker
- a space that has limited or restricted means of entry or exit
- a space not designed for continuous occupancy
That explains the examples above, right?
A confined space is any space found in an agricultural workplace that was not designed or intended as a regular workstation, has limited or restricted means of entry or exit, and has associated with it any potential physical and/or toxic hazards to workers who intentionally or unintentionally enter the space.
One added definition that is often used at the application level, that might be easy to remember is “a space that requires you to use your hands to get in and out of”.
When you have determined if and what the Confined Spaces are on your farm, you should consider completing a Risk Assessment so that your team can identify the associated hazards. As an employer you have a duty to control any risks associated with work in Confined Spaces so far as reasonably practicable.
A few things to consider:
- Could the work be done another way without entering the confined space?
- Have you established entry and exit procedures to and from the confined space?
- Has your emergency procedure been communicated to other employees, and they understand?
- Have you organized signage and warnings for any confined space for those that are not trained?
- Do you have the appropriate PPE?
Confined Spaces Permit
The OSHA Confined Space Entry Standard, 29 CFR 191.146, tells us a written permit is needed to enter certain confined spaces, which are called ‘permit-required’ spaces. It is important to note that not all confined spaces are permit-required confined spaces.
A permit is required if the space has one or more of the following:
- Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
- Contains a material with the potential to engulf someone
- Has an internal configuration that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross section
- Contains any other recognized serious safety or health concerns
In short, if the space has the potential to cause harm to a person, it is likely to be a permit-required confined space, meaning it needs particular attention.
Written permits issued by an employer prior to entry to such a space means the risks have been considered, and response plans are in place should someone get in trouble while inside.
Confined Spaces Hazards
Some of the hazards relating to confined spaces in agriculture include entrapment or engulfment in grains, getting entangled in moving machinery, asphyxiation due to exposure to toxic environments or suffocation due to not enough oxygen in the environment, falls, electrocutions, drowning, respiratory distress due to exposure to dust and micro toxins, and burns from fires and explosions. All nasty things that could go wrong.
Plan for safe entry into and exit from permit-required spaces on your farm. Make sure you have worked out emergency first response if something does go wrong. The first instruction to first responders must always be “do NOT follow me in”. It’s bad enough for one person to succumb to hazards – others rushing in to save them could result in multiple fatalities.
Where possible, cover and lock entry to permit-required spaces so people cannot enter, intentionally or unintentionally, without permission and a safety plan.
Take the time to let this sink in. Rushing into a confined space without thinking about the potential consequences will most likely be deadly. Providing a safe and healthy workplace and ensuring everyone goes home at the end of the day must be every farmers’ first priority.
Ensure your policies are up to date and signed off. Safe Ag Systems have many templates available including one specific to Working in Confined Spaces.
Topics: Safety Management System
Disclaimer: Content on this website may be of relevance to users outside of Australia, but content links and examples are specific to the United States. Please check with your local authority for your country and industry requirements.
Originally published 11 October, 2021.