When we think of agriculture, we often picture wide-open fields, crop duster planes or open-air tractors. Yet, many agricultural tasks must be performed in enclosed or cramped areas.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), confined spaces are large enough and configured so a person can bodily enter and perform an assigned task, has limited or restricted means of entry or exit and is not intended for continuous human occupancy. Confined or enclosed spaces include, but are not limited to, storage tanks; process vessels; bins, boilers, ventilation or exhaust ducts; sewers; underground utility vaults; tunnels; pipelines; and open top spaces more than four feet deep such as pits, tubs, vaults and vessels.

A permit required confined space includes the original three criteria for confined space plus one or more of the following:

Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous material

Contains a material with the potential for engulfment or entrapment

Has an internal configuration with inwardly converging walls or floors, which slope downward to a smaller cross section

Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard

Without proper procedures in place, agricultural confined spaces can present significant safety and health hazards to workers. For example, employees may be exposed to atmospheric hazards such as oxygen deficiencies or surpluses; toxic gases, vapors or fumes; or flammable and explosive hazards. Employees can also be exposed to physical hazards such as engulfment, moving parts, energy hazards, noise, falling objects and extreme heat or cold. Employees entering spaces can encounter critters such as snakes and nocturnal animals and may also experience psychological issues such as claustrophobia.

To reduce worker exposures, CTEH advises agricultural operators to develop and implement site-specific entry systems and emergency action plans (EAPs). In Part II of our series, our training experts will provide general guidance and safety tips to prevent confined space incidents in agricultural settings.

Have questions about confined space training? Contact CTEH at 501-801-8500 or webquestion@cteh.com.