Blog Post #8 – In this post to The Confined Space Training Blog, we will discuss the differences between a confined space that meets the Federal OSHA definition of a permit-required confined space versus one that can be classified as a non-permit required confined space.
Why make the distinction between permit and non-permit required confined spaces? Because entry into that space classified as a permit-required confined space is only allowed under an entry program meeting all pertinent requirements of the OSHA permit-required confined space entry standard. However, confined spaces that do not meet the OSHA definition of a permit space, which are called non-permit required confined spaces, may be entered without having to follow those additional precautions.
Criteria of a Permit-required Confined Space per the OSHA Definition
According to OSHA, a space is classified as a permit-required confined space if it meets one or more of the following characteristics:
- The space contains an actual or potential hazardous atmosphere;
- The space contains a material with the potential to engulf the entrant;
- The space is configured to trap or asphyxiate the entrant; or;
- The space contains some other recognized serious safety or health hazard.
We will break down each one of these four characteristics in subsequent blog posts. But for now, just be aware that it only takes one of these characteristics to be present, or reasonably expected to be present, for a confined space to be classified as a permit required confined space. Also, a permit-required confined space may contain two or more of these characteristics, and they all need to be identified so the hazards can be adequately addressed before entry operations begin.
What is a Non-permit Required Confined Space?
But what if the confined space does not meet any one of the four characteristics listed above? Then it could be classified as a non-permit space. According to the OSHA definitions in 1910.146 and in 1926 subpart AA, a non-permit required confined space is “a space that meets the definition of a confined space, but does not meet the requirements for a permit-required confined space, as outlined by the OSHA standard.”
When Re-evaluation of a Non-permit Space is Necessary
Keep in mind, however, that an employer must re-evaluate a non-permit required confined space if there are any changes to the use or configuration of that space that might increase the hazards to entrants, or if there is some indication that the initial evaluation of the space may not have been adequate. And if an actual or potential hazard is identified, the space must be reclassified as a permit-required confined space at that time.
For example, if a stainless-steel process tank is newly installed and has never held any material, and it has no agitators inside the tank or fill lines attached, it could be classified as a non-permit required confined space because it does not contain any health or safety hazards. However, if an employee needs to enter the tank to conduct an inspection and must decontaminate the inside of the tank before exiting by wiping it with isopropyl alcohol, which is flammable and toxic, the tank must be temporarily reclassified as a permit-required confined space during the performance of this task.
Reclassification of a Permit-required Confined Space to a Non-permit Confined Space
Last but not least, there are some opportunities where an employer who needs to enter into a permit-required confined space can implement steps to isolate the space from its hazards, allowing it to be temporarily reclassified as a non-permit confined space for as long as those hazards remain eliminated. More on that subject in a later blog post.
Why it is Important to Properly Classify All Confined Spaces
Again, employers need to evaluate each confined space at their worksites to distinguish if it must be classified as a permit-required confined space, which requires implementation of a full permit-required confined space entry program, or if it can be classified as a non-permit required confined space. In the latter case, the space does not have to be identified with a warning sign, no permit is required to be filled out prior to entering the space, and no precautions listed in the OSHA permit-required confined space standards need be taken unless changes to the space or entry operations present an actual or potential hazard.
In our next blog post (#9), we will start examining what constitutes a hazardous atmosphere inside of a confined space. In the meantime, please provide your feedback and questions to this blog post in the comments section below. And as always, I urge you to share a link to this blog post with anyone in your network who could benefit from this information. Thanks – Curtis