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Confined Space Entry: The Supervisor’s Role

Supervisor Confined Space Entry

Thursday, Mar 14th, 2019

Confined SpaceEmployees entering confined spaces to perform work can face many dangers, including hazardous atmospheres, fires, explosions, and engulfment. While employees receive training in these hazards, a trained and qualified confined space entry supervisor must also be present. Confined space entry supervisors are not only trained over confined space awareness, roles, and responsibilities, but also are required to undergo additional training to keep any employees working in the space safe.

Supervisor Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a confined space entry supervisor begin before any trained employees enter the confined space. They must understand all of the hazards in the space, including the mode, signs, symptoms and consequences of exposure to each, and be familiar with the required hazard controls. They must be able to read an entry permit and verify that entry conditions are acceptable before entry is allowed. The entry supervisor must also understand:

  • Communication plans between the entrant and attendant
  • Rescue plans and services
  • How to oversee the confined space entry operations and routinely verify ongoing conditions

Supervisor trainingConfined space entry supervisors also have the final word in determining acceptable conditions for employees working in the space. They are responsible for terminating entry procedures whenever necessary for the safety of employees. Employees should never enter a confined space without a properly qualified supervisor present.

Permit Systems

Confined space entry supervisors must be familiar with the employer’s written permit-required confined space program. Permit systems must include:

  • Identification of the space
  • Purpose, dates and duration of the permitted entry
  • Names of authorized entrants and the current attendant and supervisor
  • Hazards of the permit space and their controls, including atmospheric testing results
  • Acceptable entry conditions
  • Rescue services
  • Communication procedures
  • Equipment provided, such as PPE and rescue equipment
  • Any additional necessary information, including any additional permits that will be needed (such as hot work permits)

This information is crucial for ensuring the safety of any employees entering a confined space. No employees should be allowed to enter a confined space until the permit has been fully developed and approved.

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As part of the development and authorization of the permit, a properly trained and qualified individual must perform atmospheric testing in the permit-required confined space. Hazardous atmospheres are one of the most significant risks that workers can experience in permit-required confined spaces. Tests should be performed to determine the presence of:

  • Oxygen Content
    • Atmosphere can be oxygen deficient (concentration is less than 19.5%) or oxygen enriched (concentration is greater than 23.5%)
    • Both atmospheres can put entry workers at risk, with oxygen deficient atmospheres leading to loss of consciousness and suffocation, and oxygen enriched atmospheres leading to a higher risk of flammability, as well as spontaneous fires and explosions.
  • Flammable Gases and Vapors
    • Every flammable gas or vapor has a lower flammable limit, or LFL
      • LFL is the lowest concentration of a combustible material in air that can ignite
    • The concentration of combustible material in the air must be less than 10 percent of the LFL
  • Potential toxic air contaminants

Once the tests are completed, all results must be logged on the entry permit. The confined space entry supervisor is required to verify that these tests were conducted and documented properly by a qualified person. In addition, the entry supervisor must ensure the air in the space is monitored when workers are in the space if there is any risk of a hazardous atmosphere developing.

Authorization

Once the space has been evaluated and the permit is complete, it must be authorized by a person who has the authority to do so. Once authorized, the entry supervisor must verify the conditions of the permit and sign it to authorize entry. Once completed, the entry supervisor must make the permit available to all employees who will be involved in the entry procedure. This can be done by posting the permit at the entry portal. “Entry” begins as soon as any part of an entrant’s body breaks the plane of an opening to the space, and continues as long as any entrant has any body part still in the space.

Supervised Confined EntryThe entry supervisor has the power to cancel a permit and terminate entry at any time. If unacceptable conditions arise or the task is completed, the permit is cancelled, and if additional entry must be made, a new permit is required. While the work for this can seem extensive and repetitive, changes to a confined space’s atmosphere can occur at any time and for many reasons, so new permits are required each time. Entry supervisors should never allow entry to anyone not on the permit, or when the permit has been cancelled, as it could lead to serious health effects and even death.

Conclusion

Confined space entry operations are complex and require appropriately trained personnel both working in the confined space and supervising the entry to the space. Confined space entry supervisors must ensure the safety of any employees through their knowledge of hazards, permits, and rescue methods. By ensuring employees receive all the appropriate training, employers can establish safe practices and prevent unnecessary injuries or other adverse effects.

SafetySkills covers these topics and more in our Confined Space Entry Supervisor course.

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