How can workers be protected from dehydration in confined spaces?
Working in confined spaces can present many hazards and challenges. One of the most overlooked hazards can be dehydration and protecting workers from dehydration in confined spaces is often not well considered or planned.
When planning confined space work, the focus is often on the hazards within the space. Potentially explosive atmospheres, hazardous atmospheres, ventilation requirements, heat, cold, engulfment, drowning, hazardous chemicals and so on. These hazards are mitigated prior to entry but one of the things one must always consider is protecting workers from dehydration due to heat and sweating in confined spaces.
(Learn more in It's Not All About Fluids: 5 Factors That Can Lead to Dehydration.)
The potential for dehydration should be factored into confined space assessments, procedures and JHA’s where applicable. Assessing the conditions inside the space and planning around it is crucial. Some questions you may want to ask yourself are:
- What is the temperature?
- How demanding is the work?
- What PPE will the entrants be wearing?
- How long will they be in there?
- How often will they take breaks and re-hydrate?
- Do we have the human resources and tools to complete the job safely and efficiently?
- Are water and other beverages readily available?
- Is hydration factored into the job plan and risk assessment?
- What steps can we take to control the temperature and conditions inside the space to reduce the hazards to reduce the risk of dehydration?
Fluid loss due to sweating in a hot environment and/or due to wearing non-breathable PPE must be considered to prevent heat and dehydration related illnesses. There are some steps you and your workers can take to avoid dehydration when working in confined spaces:
- Hydrate prior to entry with water or electrolyte sport drinks.
- Schedule hydration breaks.
- Drink even when you don’t feel thirsty. Thirst is a sign of dehydration.
- Have dry clothes or PPE on hand if wet clothes need to be changed.
- Avoid caffeine as it dehydrates the body.
- Avoid alcohol on the day previous as it dehydrates the body. Combine a hangover with strenuous work in a hot environment while wearing non breathable and you are asking for trouble.
- Train workers on the importance of hydration.
- Make hydration a part of your assessment, procedure and hazard assessment.
- Ensure water and/or sports drinks are available and accessible. Take water with you in the confined space (only if safe to do so).
- Reduce the temperature inside the confined space (if necessary, or possible).
- Rotate workers if required.
- Schedule the confined space work (if possible) to a time when conditions will be better.
- Plan the job to reduce the amount of physical work required (if possible).
- Ensure that you have sufficient human resources and tools and equipment to reduce exposure.
- Examine your processes. Is it possible to do this job another way?
- Select the most appropriate PPE for the job hazards and conditions.
- Eat fruit with a lot of water content and high energy foods.
- Re-hydrate after the job is complete.
With proper planning, resources and scheduling it is possible to reduce the risk of dehydration in confined spaces considerably. Don’t forget to consider it when planning for your next confined space entry.
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