How to Stay Safe in Confined Spaces

Since this is National Care About Your Indoor Air Month, Beall Brewery Insurance wants to take the opportunity to remind breweries that the air quality of confined spaces can compromise worker safety, and to offer suggestions to help keep brewery staff safe when dealing with confined spaces.

Confined spaces pose a significant danger if not approached with care. In 2009, a welder who entered a fermentation tank to seal a crack set himself on fire when he lit his blowtorch in the space, which was oversaturated with oxygen. In 2011, a fermentation tank exploded at a Vermont brewery. (Of course, confined spaces are a risk for reasons other than air quality as well; in 2010 alone, close to 30 people were killed in grain entrapment incidents in the United States.)

To help keep workers safe, create an inventory of your brewery’s confined spaces. Remember that a confined space is an area that

  • has limited access
  • can be entered
  • is not designed for continuous occupation.

Once your inventory is complete, categorize each item according to OSHA rules. If they are “permit spaces,” in addition to the previous three criteria, they also posses

  • a potentially hazardous atmosphere
  • the potential to engulf a worker
  • a tapering shape that could trap or asphyxiate a worker
  • any other recognized serious hazard.

Each permit space requires the employer to develop a comprehensive written program explaining how and when written permits must be completed and used to gain entry. Created by the brewery itself, the permit is a checklist that informs employees about how to evaluate hazards, conduct air monitoring, and so on.

Entering a permit space usually requires a minimum of three trained people: the person entering the space, an attendant, and someone to supervise the proceedings. The person entering the space may require breathing equipment, air monitors, and a full-body harness.

If the known hazards of a particular permit space can be eliminated without entering the vessel, that vessel is eligible for reclassification, and will no longer require a three-person team. But care still needs to be taken.

For more than 25 years, Beall Financial and Insurance Services, Inc., has been helping corporations and individuals protect their most important assets. The agency’s client base covers a spectrum of niche businesses, such as craft breweries, that require specialized insurance packages and knowledge. With California offices in Redlands and Newport Beach, Beall Financial and Insurance Services serves clients nationwide.