The Dangers of Confined Space Entry for Maritime Workers
The confined spaces found aboard a vessel or offshore rig have always been risky places to work. These areas present unique hazards for the maritime workers who must enter and work in these areas. Despite efforts to reduce the risks of confined space entry, confined space injuries continue to be a big problem for maritime workers.
What Is a Confined Space?
What do we mean when we talk about a confined space? Confined spaces, also known as enclosed spaces, can be encountered in any occupation. Confined spaces and holds are common aboard vessels, oil rigs, and other floating or fixed marine structures.
A confined space is space that is large enough and configured so a person can enter, but:
- Has limited means of entry and exit;
- Is inadequately ventilated; and
- Is not designed for continuous worker occupancy.
A few examples of confined spaces found aboard vessels and oil rigs include cargo holds, narrow hallways and doors, spaces between equipment and machinery, ballast tanks, void spaces, spaces around a wellhead, double bottoms, cofferdams, and chain lockers.
Confined space entry is the action by which a person passes through the opening into a confined space. Entry occurs as soon as any part of an entrant’s body breaks the plane of an opening into the space and includes any ensuing work activities in that space.
What Are The Dangers of Confined Space Entry?
There are two types of confined space hazards: atmospheric and physical.
Physical hazards can include:
- Slippery surfaces
- Moving or rotating machinery
- Poorly maintained steps and ladders
Poor lighting, physically restrictive work areas, and extreme hot or cold conditions can make the situation worse. Physical confined space hazards can result in slip and fall, crush, burns, electrocution, and other types of accidents.
Hydrocarbon solvents, like those used as degreasing agents, can present physical hazards as well. Some types of solvents can cause nerve damage; others can affect heart function.
Atmospheric hazards present the greatest dangers to marine workers in confined spaces. Confined space atmospheres that are oxygen-deficient, toxic, or combustible are a leading cause of confined space injuries and fatalities. In many cases, workers in confined spaces may not realize they’re being exposed to dangerous atmospheres until it’s too late.
Some of the atmospheric risks maritime workers can encounter during an enclosed space entry include:
- Oxygen-deficient atmospheres
- Fumes from chemicals and compounds (such as paints and other coatings)
- Gasoline and diesel fumes
- Dangerous airborne biological materials
- Smoke inhalation
- Welding fumes
Atmospheric hazards can also hinder rescue efforts, delaying critical emergency medical treatment for the injured worker.
What Can Maritime Employers Do to Protect Employees in Confined Spaces?
Both maritime employers and employees must work together to reduce the risks of confined space entry injuries. Here are some of the ways this can be accomplished:
- Follow all regulations for confined space work. OSHA requires employers to ensure that any enclosed workspaces are visually inspected and tested by qualified personnel to determine the atmosphere’s oxygen content prior to initial entry by an employee.
- Monitor the atmosphere within the confined space using electrochemical and infrared sensors, photoionization and flame ionization detectors, colorimetric tubes, and other equipment.
- Properly ventilate and light the space.
- Eliminate or control hazards through mechanical or electrical means. Ensure the work area is clear of obstructions and other hazards before confined space entry.
- Know which types of personal protective equipment are needed to safely work within an enclosed space aboard a vessel. Be aware of the adverse health effects encountered while working within an enclosed space.
- Workers should be continuously monitored while working in confined spaces. An outside attendant must be present to monitor the safety of the confined space entry, render aid in the event of an emergency, and call for outside assistance when necessary.
- Be prepared to render aid; have an emergency plan in place. Ensure workers know how to safely exit an enclosed space during an emergency situation.
Maritime employers have a legal duty to provide their employees with a safe workplace. When they fail to do so, confined space entry and other types of accidents can occur.
Speak to a New Orleans Maritime Law Attorney About Your Work-Related Accident
If you’ve been injured while working in a confined space onboard a vessel or offshore rig, contact the law offices of Lewis, Kullman, Sterbcow & Abramson, LLC without delay. We’ve been defending the rights of injured maritime workers and their families since 1987. Our team of News Orleans-based maritime attorneys have successfully represented clients injured in a wide range of maritime accidents, including those involving confined space entry.
You can reach LKSA through our website or call us at (504) 588-1500 to schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced New Orleans maritime injury attorney. We serve clients injured in maritime accidents all over the Gulf Coast.