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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

Sometimes you just can’t get away from work, no matter how hard you try. A few weeks ago I took my wife and daughter down the coast to Oregon and we wound up at the Tillamook cheese factory. We eat so much of the stuff I figured it was worth showing my daughter that cheese doesn’t come naturally in those little solid chunks of plastic-wrapped goodness. While we were walking around the observation deck, waving at the workers, I happened to peer into the milk holding tank room and what did I see? - a very conspicuous warning sign designating a tank as a “Confined Space.” All of a sudden the conversation changed from curds and whey to fall protection, and I am sure I lost my daughter’s interest somewhere around, “At the onset of an incident...” Oh well, at least she enjoyed the squeaky cheese…

For the rest of you, let’s continue the discussion, shall we?

Confined Space At A Cheese Factory

Define "Confined Space"

First, the designation of an area as a “Confined Space” does not simply mean that it is a small, narrow, or an otherwise limiting space. There are three characteristics an area must have in order to meet OSHA’s definition of a Confined Space. OSHA 1926.1202 states:

Confined Space means a space that: (1) Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter it; (2) Has limited or restricted means for entry and exit; and (3) Is not designated for continuous employee occupancy.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see that the tank in the above picture clearly meets this definition. While it might be hard to tell from the picture, the diameter of that lid was about 24”, so it is completely plausible that a person could enter the space. Although I don’t know empirically, I’m sure there are various reasons why a person may need to enter the vat on a regular basis; cleaning, repair, inspection, or punishment for spilling the milk…

If You Can Find Them At A Cheese Factory, You Can Find Them Anywhere...

Vats like this are not the only officially recognized Confined Spaces though. Manholes, tunnels, HVAC ductwork, and pits all meet the designation of a Confined Space, requiring workers to take extra precautions regarding ingress, egress, and rescue. And as might be suspected, Confined Space work often requires specialized equipment designed specifically for these unique situations compared to what we normally think of in the fall protection world.

What kind of specialized equipment?

One of the most common additional pieces of equipment needed for Confined Space work is a tripod device, which is used to straddle an opening in order to allow a worker to be lowered into or lifted out of an opening. Take Guardian’s Arc-O-Pod, for example. The Arc-O-Pod is a lightweight and strong tripod assembly designed for Confined Space work and/or rescue operations. It raises to a maximum of 90” high and can span openings up to 5 ½'.

For instances where workers will be climbing up and down a ladder within a Confined Space while they work (think of a utility manhole), Guardian’s 3-Way SRL-R(escue) is an elegant addition to the Arc-O-Pod that has you covered not only while you work, but also in the event of a fall and subsequent rescue. The 3-Way SRL-R attaches to the Arc-O-Pod via an optional bracket, and after running its cable over the pulley, attaches to a worker’s dorsal D-ring. In standard mode, the 3-Way operates as a normal SRL, paying out and retracting cable as the worker goes about their work. In the event of a fall, the SRL will arrest the fall just like a standard SRL, but what comes next is why the 3-Way really stands out.

The 3-Way SRL-R (unlike a standard SRL) can be instantly (under load) converted to a rescue winch in order to extract the fallen worker from the Confined Space. Simply pull a locking pin, pull the crank handle to engage retrieval mode, and you are ready to rescue. Retrieval is accomplished by a 3:1 mechanical advantage crank, and, per ANSI specifications, if during the rescue the rescuer loses control of the handle, the SRL-R will automatically lock and prevent the worker from falling yet again. Once control is re-established, the rescuer simply resumes cranking the handle, lifting the worker to safety. How’s that for versatility?

Even With Specialized Equipment...You Still Need A Rescue Plan!

Of course, even the latest and greatest technology isn’t a replacement for good judgement, planning, and in the case of fall protection, a comprehensive rescue plan. If you are planning to do Confined Space work, be sure you understand the challenges of both working in and rescuing workers from Confined Spaces. Entering into (no pun intended) Confined Space work requires thinking about some safety aspects that are not typically present on the average job, such as lighting, air quality monitoring, ventilation, and hazardous fume awareness and mitigation. As a matter of fact, to fully prepare yourself, I’d recommend attending one of Guardian’s FIRST Choice Training classes covering Confined Space entry and rescue topics. These classes cover a variety of Confined Space working and rescue topics, giving workers the skills and confidence they need to operate safely in these tricky environments.