The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has sent out a confined spaces alert.
"Unsafe work in confined spaces has led to miner deaths and injuries in the metal and nonmetal mining industry," the alert reads. "Recent tragic incidents include: a fatality while cleaning the inside of a tanker railcar and a miner being severely burned during maintenance of a baghouse screw hopper. To address these regrettable occurrences, special emphasis should be placed on enforcing MSHA standards related to entering bins, hoppers, silos, tanks, and surge piles. A best practice is to conduct a hazard assessment and implement a permitting system as part of a safe entry standard operating procedure (SOP)."
MSHA recommends the following best practices:
- Identify all possible confined spaces at a mine and associated hazards.
- Inform miners by posting danger signs “Confined Space Do Not Enter Permit Required” - Do not allow unauthorized entry.
- Plan - Establish a written SOP that includes a permit to work and enter system, communication and emergency plan and train miners on the plan.
- Identify authorized entrants.
- Isolate the space. Assure energy sources are deenergized (lockout & tag out).
- Conduct pre-entry testing. Test the internal atmosphere for oxygen content, flammable gases and vapor, and potential toxic air contaminants.
- Monitor the atmosphere. Continuously monitor conditions in areas where authorized entrants are working. Provide an early-warning system. Assure that monitoring procedures will detect an increase in atmospheric hazard levels in sufficient time for the entrants to safely exit the permit space.
- Do not enter an area that has less than 19.5 percent oxygen.
- Assign an “attendant” – someone to maintain contact with the entrant while they are in the confined space.
- Do NOT enter a confined space in an attempt to rescue a downed employee or co-worker if you don’t know the atmospheric condition or have special lifesaving equipment. Rescue attempts in a toxic atmosphere by untrained personnel are extremely dangerous and can lead to multiple deaths.