ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- In 2018, three underground utility workers in Florida died performing routine work after entering a confined space without the proper personal protective equipment or gas monitoring equipment.

The incident occurred in Key Largo, Florida, and happened when one worker removed a manhole cover, entered a 15-foot-deep drainage hole and became unresponsive.

The second and third workers entered the space to attempt rescue, but were also overcome with hydrogen sulfide and methane gases.

Confined spaces come in many shapes, sizes and configurations.

Do you know what makes something a confined space, what makes a space permit required or how to recognize permit required confined spaces in your work area?

For a space to be considered a confined space it must meet three criteria.
• The space must be large enough or so configured to bodily enter.
• The space must have a limited means of entry and exit.
• The space must not be designed for continuous human occupancy.

Only when all three criteria are met is the space a confined space.

A permit-required confined space contains a hazard, such as a poisonous atmosphere, mechanical hazards, electrical hazards, etc.

A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 79 percent of confined space fatalities resulted from atmospheric hazards (oxygen deficient, toxic or flammable) and 21 percent from physical hazards.

That shows if you monitor and/or ventilate the space, you can eliminate close to 80 percent of risks.

Many fatalities occurring during a confined space entry are due the workers not being aware of the potential hazards.

The first step in confined space awareness is performing a confined space assessment to identify all permit-required confined spaces.

Anniston Army Depot has over 800 confined spaces.

Because of the enormity of adequately evaluating all existing spaces to fully understand hazards present, all spaces were deemed permit required in 2015 and labeled as such.

Once a space is fully evaluated and shown to have no possible dangers associated with work being performed within the confined space, it may be downgraded to a non-permit confined space.

The ANAD safety office is performing evaluations of each existing permit required confined space.

Those spaces found to either not meet the true definition of a permit required confined space or not have a potential hazard present will be downgraded.

Once an evaluation is complete, a copy of the evaluation for the confined space must be maintained in the Go to Resource book for the area and all employees should be briefed on the evaluation and conditions of downgrade.

All conditions of the evaluation must be met or the space will be considered a permit-required confined space.

While some spaces will be eventually downgraded, many will remain permit required confined spaces due to the inability to completely remove the potential danger.

These spaces will continue to require the completion of the ANAD Confined Space Entry Permit form, which is located on the ANAD Safety Office Intranet page under Forms/Checklists.

The permit documents an assessment has been completed, what controls are present, tracks entry and exit of the space, who is monitoring workers (attendant) and that rescue services are available. It is pertinent that the confined space permit be completed in its entirety prior to any entry.

The form will be the permit required for confined space entry and covers main aspects of the program.

The space must be evaluated for all potential hazards and controls implemented must be identified. This includes performing atmospheric testing of a space by trained individuals and implementing any required ventilation of the space.

Additionally, lockout/tagout of all energy sources, such as mechanical, electrical or chemical feed lines, must be completed prior to entry.

Finally, hazards, such as thermal stresses or entrapment hazards, must be addressed.

A plan must also be established for rescue, should an accident occur, and all rescue personnel verified as readily available for response.

Employees who enter confined spaces (entrants) as well as those serving as the "Entry point watch" (attendants) must receive training.

The training must include a review of confined space hazards, confined space preparation requirements and responsibilities of entrants, attendants and emergency response.

Don't become a statistic. Make sure you know about the confined spaces in your area.

Don't enter any confined space unless you have reason and only when you know a thorough evaluation has been completed to show no hazards exist.

If the space is permit-required, enter only under a permit that is complete, documenting the full evaluation of hazards, implementation of required controls and assurance that rescue personnel are available.