Confined Space Entry Program

Confined spaces may contain hazards that can injure workers or quickly lead to death. Untrained and ill-equipped rescuers can easily become victims themselves. UW departments, supported by EH&S, must follow the requirements of the Confined Space Entry Program to ensure personnel working in or near confined spaces are protected from harm.

The Confined Space Entry Program applies to any UW department that has space(s) that may potentially be hazardous when entered. A confined space is one configured so that a person can fully enter and work, but is not designed for continuous human occupancy and has restricted or limited means of entry or exit.

Examples of confined spaces at UW may include, but aren't limited to:

  • Boilers

  • Sewers

  • Vessels and Tanks

  • Attics, plenums and crawlspaces

  • Storage bins

  • Lift stations

  • Utility vaults

  • Air handling units

  • Sumps and pits

  • Cooling towers

  • Excavations

  • Tunnels and pipelines

Confined spaces may contain a hazardous atmosphere, engulfment hazards or other hazards, such as electrical, mechanical and fall from a height. These spaces require entry permits that address the hazards, mitigations and required approvals.

Hazards may also be introduced by activities performed inside the space. Use of chemicals, painting, cleaning, grinding or sanding all create atmospheric hazards that can cause injury or illness without adequate ventilation or other controls. Hot work (e.g., welding, cutting, grinding, or brazing) in a confined space may release toxic gases or fumes.

Elements of the Confined Space Entry Program include:

  • A written Confined Space Entry program document
  • Inventory of permit-required confined spaces and hazards determination
  • Development of department-specific confined space entry plans
  • Roles and responsibilities for confined space entry supervisors, entrants and attendants
  • Confined space signage requirements
  • A UW permit system for confined space entry including preparation, use and cancellation of permits
  • Methods for hazard mitigation, including air monitoring and use of entry equipment
  • Rescue and emergency procedures
  • Training of employees
  • Contractor requirements
  • Audit and inspections of the program

UW departments that do not expect to enter any confined spaces are not required to develop a confined space entry plan. If a department or its contractor needs to enter a confined space, they can contact the controlling department, or EH&S, for more information about the space.

What you need to know

What you can do to stay safe

  • Always be current with your confined space training and ask questions if unsure about any hazards in a confined space, hazards introduced from doing work in a confined space, entry procedures or potential problems that may occur.
  • Never enter a confined space if you are unsure of the hazards, procedures and equipment, or if you feel ill.
  • As an entrant, communicate frequently with your attendant(s) about the status of your work in the confined space and how you feel.
  • Understand and communicate to others not to enter spaces that are posted with confined space signage.
  • If you suspect a space meets the definition of a permit-required confined space, do not enter the space. Complete the Confined Space Evaluation form and submit it to EH&S for evaluation.

Services available

EH&S provides the following services:

  • Assists departments with developing, maintaining and improving their confined space entry safety plans.

  • Maintains a confined space inventory list for your reference.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Entry is when a person passes through an opening into a permit-required confined space. Entry includes ensuing work activities in the space and is considered to have occurred as soon as any part of the body (arms, hands, head, torso) breaks the plane of the opening into the space

If a space has limited or restricted means of entry or exit, an entrant's ability to escape in an emergency would be hindered. The dimensions of a door and its location are factors in determining whether an entrant can easily escape; however, the simple presence of a door may not mean that the space is not a confined space. For example, a space such as a bag house or crawl space that has a door leading into it, but also has pipes, conduits, ducts, equipment or materials that an employee would have to crawl over, under or squeeze around to escape, has limited or restricted means of exit. A piece of equipment with an access door, such as a conveyor feed, a drying oven or a paint spray enclosure, will also be considered to have restricted means of entry or exit if an employee has to crawl to gain access to his or her intended work location. Similarly, an access door or portal that is too small to allow an employee to walk upright and unimpeded through it will be considered to restrict an employee's ability to escape.

Designed for Human Occupancy means the space is designed for a person to occupy the area under normal operating conditions and is intended as a place of work.

Engulfment means the surrounding and effective capture of a person by a liquid or finely divided (flowable) solid substance that can be breathed in and cause death by filling or plugging the respiratory system, or that can exert enough force on the body to cause death by strangulation, constriction or crushing. Engulfment hazards include any “flowable” materials, such as water, product or chemical.

Flowable material (e.g., gas, liquids, fine solids) hazards must be isolated by physical disconnect, blinding or blanking of interconnected piping; or a risk assessment must be completed that provides equal protection. Isolation with a single valve is not acceptable as valves can fail.

More information

The conditions that must exist in a permit space to allow entry so that employees involved with a permit-required confined space entry can safely enter into and work within the space

An individual stationed outside the permit space who monitors the authorized entrants and who performs all attendants’ duties assigned in the permit space program

The absolute closure of a pipe, line or duct by fastening a solid plate that completely covers the bore and that is capable of withstanding the maximum pressure of the pipe, line or duct with no leakage beyond the plate.

A space that meets the following criteria:

  • Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work
  • Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit
  • Is not designed for continuous human occupancy

The surrounding capture of a person by a liquid or finely divided (flowable) solid substance that can be inhaled to cause death by filling or plugging the respiratory system or that can exert enough force on the body to cause death by strangulation, constriction or crushing

Employee who is authorized to enter a permit space

Action by which a person passes through an opening into a permit-required confined space and includes work activities in that space. Entry occurs as soon as any part of the entrant’s body breaks the plane of the opening into the space.

The written or printed document provided by UW allowing and controlling entry into a permit space

The person (such as the supervisor, foreman or crew chief) responsible for:

  • Determining if acceptable entry conditions are present at a permit space where entry is planned
  • Authorizing entry and overseeing entry operations
  • Terminating entry as required by this section

An atmosphere that may expose employees to the risk of death, incapacitation, impairment of ability to self-rescue, injury, or acute illness from one or more of the following:

  • Flammable gas, vapor, or mist in excess of 10 percent of its lower explosive limit (LEL)
  • Airborne combustible dust at a concentration that meets or exceeds its LEL
  • Atmospheric oxygen concentration below 19.5 percent or above 23.5 percent
  • Atmospheric concentration of any substance for which may exceed a permissible exposure limit
  • Any other atmospheric condition that is immediately dangerous to life or health

Any condition that poses an immediately or delayed threat to life or what would cause irreversible adverse health effects or that would interfere with an individual’s ability to escape unaided from a permit space

The process by which a permit space is removed from service and completely protected against the release of energy and material into the space by such means as: blanking or blinding; misaligning or removing sections of lines, pipes or ducts; a double block and bleed system; lockout or tagout of all sources of energy, including hydraulic or electric; or blocking or disconnecting all mechanical linkages

A permit-required confined space has one or more of the following characteristics. Special plans, procedures, and permits need to be followed before, during, and after entry into the space:

  • Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
  • Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant
  • Has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor, which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section
  • Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard

Equipment used for non-entry rescue of persons from a permit space, such as a retrieval line, full-body harness, wristlets, and a lifting device or anchor