Enclosed spaces are an integral part of vessel design, but these spaces present particular hazards to workers. These spaces often have limited access, poor lighting and poor ventilation. Cargo areas, ballast tanks, chain lockers and storage spaces are examples of enclosed spaces. Maritime workers often enter these spaces to make repairs or to perform maintenance or cleaning tasks.
Despite ongoing industry efforts to regulate enclosed spaces, serious and even fatal accidents remain common. Studies show that these accidents are largely due to workers’ lack of understanding of the risks associated with enclosed spaces.
Abnormal oxygen levels
Abnormal oxygen levels are the main hazard of working in confined spaces. Low oxygen levels may cause workers to lose consciousness or suffocate. Low-oxygen atmospheres are often created when another gas, such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide, enters the space and displaces the oxygen, or when processes such as rusting metal or ripening fruit consume the oxygen in the space. High oxygen levels are highly flammable and cause fires to spread more quickly. Leaky oxygen hoses are often to blame.
Poor ventilation may allow chemicals, such as ammonia, methane gas or hydrogen sulfide, to collect in enclosed spaces. These toxins may cause severe injuries to workers’ eyes, skin or respiratory systems, and may lead to poisoning or death. A buildup of combustible gases in an enclosed space also increases the risk of an explosion.
Always use extreme caution when entering an enclosed space. Never enter an enclosed space to attempt to rescue an unconscious coworker. Staying aware of the dangers of enclosed spaces could save your life.