Dave Wagner remembers his first confined space job. He survived it.
A gas monitoring specialist, Wagner worked as a laborer for a public utility company while in college. Through a small 24-inch portal, he and his summer coworkers passed into a large condenser. Once inside, they inserted a metal plug and high-pressure hose into a series of one-inch tubes, cleaning them of debris.
It was hot, wet work with minimal ventilation. Balance was hard to maintain, and worst of all, the stench was awful! For Dave Wagner and his coworkers, safety provisions were minimal at best. They were sent into a confined space with no provisions laid out for the likelihood that an accident could happen – no escape or rescue plan.
The Important Role of a Hole Watch?
The Department of Labor defines a confined space as having one of the following characteristics:
- A hazardous atmosphere, or the potential for one
- “The potential to engulf an entrant” within the space
- Narrowing walls or tapering floors, either of which could entrap someone
- The presence of unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress
As with Wagner’s first job, industrial workers are often required to perform special tasks in these confined spaces. For them, the experiences are anything but enjoyable, and are often very dangerous. But unlike Wagner’s experience, workers today who are permitted to enter confined spaces need an attendant – a hole watch. The presence of a hole watch—a confined space attendant—can mean the difference between life and death.
Unlike the casual sound of its name, this is one of the most important positions on the industrial crew. The hole watch must be vigilant to hazards like toxic fumes, combustible gases, and entrapment risks, and often use portable monitors to sample air quality in the work area. They must communicate regularly with those within the space while keeping visible contact. The hole watch is not meant to enter the confined space and attempt a rescue, that is to be left to the rescue professionals. It is their job to recognize dangerous situations, raise the alarm, and initiate evacuation, so content awareness of all surroundings is a must.
Who Is Your Best Hole Watch?
Confined space attendants are in high demand in today’s industrial job market, but it is important to hire the most trained and experienced. Hole watch personnel are entrusted with the safety of every other crew member who enters the confined space. A fully trained confined space attendant understands the hazards of confined space entry; a fully trained confined space attendant knows the proper procedures for acquiring help. Industrial laborers today work under the protection of OSHA regulations, and there are many policies surrounding the safety of confined space workers. A fully trained confined space attendant knows these OSHA practices for safety.
What do you learn to do as a hole watch, as a confined space attendant? You learn to preserve life. That need was there in Dave Wagner’s day. It’s certainly still there today.