Entering and working in confined spaces is serious business. In the years I’ve been a safety professional, I’ve been involved with several hundred confined space entries, including overseeing entries into most of the confined space examples listed in the scope of OSHA’s “Confined Spaces in Construction” standard. A number of times I’ve been called to the scene of a confined space entry where the entrants had been evacuated because of alarms from direct-reading portable gas monitors. Some of these alarms were caused by degradation of atmospheric conditions, while others were due to operator error. Thankfully, I’ve never been called to a scene involving a worker who was down and overcome in a confined space, but I must admit that where confined space entries are involved, such a situation is my worst nightmare.
Over the last few decades, part of my work also has included training hundreds of workers in confined space entry. Typically training covers two major components: teaching trainees the regulatory requirements of the standard for confined space entry, and training them about their employer’s specific processes and procedures for conducting confined space entries in compliance with the standard. However, as Jarred O’Dell, CSP, CUSP, noted in his February 2016 Incident Prevention article, “Trenching by the Numbers” (see http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/trenching-by-the-numbers), “This is a great approach but perhaps an incomplete one. Truly impactful safety training typically includes a third component: sharing of personal experience.” In this article, I want to share some of my personal experiences and goals as they relate to training workers on the topic of confined space entry, with the hope that I can offer some useful takeaways to other trainers and utility safety professionals.
A Major Motivator
I’ve always been passionate about teaching confined space entry, and my major motivator is this: If workers aren’t properly trained to enter confined spaces, they might not be able to go home at some point. I end every training session I conduct, regardless of the topic or skill level of those I’m training, by explaining to the trainees that the most important thing they will do each and every day is to safely go home to their families, their friends, their plans, their dreams – their lives.
I want my trainees to know that the reason we have confined space procedures, training, permits, direct-reading portable gas monitors and non-entry rescue equipment is because people can die in confined spaces. I also want them to know that many people who have died in confined spaces weren’t even the entrants. Nearly half of those who have died in a confined space situation were would-be rescuers. I want my trainees to care enough about safely going home at the end of the day that they will perform the necessary confined-space tasks correctly the first time, based on the training they have received, because I’ve found a way to make this training important to them on a personal level.