How to Stay Safe in 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. In 2010 alone, close to 30 people died in grain entrapment incidents in the United States.)

What does your brewery need to do to help protect employees working in comfined spaces?

Confined Space Protocols

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
  • people can enter
  • 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 possess

  • 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 are required to gain entry. Created by the brewery itself, the permit is a checklist that informs employees 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 workers must still take precautions.

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 offices in California and Indiana, Beall Financial and Insurance Services serves clients nationwide.