Confined Space Awareness--Preventing Deaths and Injuries to Workers

Tailgate Discussion Guide for Health and Safety Professionals

This material is intended to raise awareness of confined space hazards. It is not a confined space entry or rescue training program. This curriculum is not intended to train you to be an attendant in a confined space entry or to perform a rescue. This tool will help you identify confined spaces so that you will stay out.

Why is Confined Space Awareness a Concern?

An average of 100 confined space related deaths occur each year in workplaces in the United States. The main cause of the fatalities is workers entering oxygen deficient or toxic atmospheres. More than 60% of the documented deaths occur among would-be rescuers. Accidents that happen in confined spaces are often fatal. This is why this topic is of such concern.

The goal of this awareness material is to:

  • Help workers to recognize what a confined space is, to identify the associated hazards and to clearly understand that they should NEVER enter a confined space unless they have received appropriate training and the entry is in accordance with the employer's written confined space entry program.
  • Assist employees in understanding the correct emergency response in a confined space incident. A confined space workplace emergency situation may generate spontaneous reactions that may lead to multiple fatalities. It is critical that workers know they should NEVER enter a confined space to rescue someone unless they are qualified Confined Space Rescue personnel. CALL 911 immediately! Don't waste time.

During the tailgate discussion, you will be providing your workers with information to identify confined spaces as well as the hazards that can be present in confined spaces. An additional example is available, City Engineer Killed in Landfill Manhole When Retrieving Flow Meter.

Read the "Hazard Warning" to workers as well as the questions and answers. Provide your workers with a copy of the "Safety Checklist For Confined Spaces".


HAZARD WARNING! Do Not enter confined spaces as you are putting yourself at risk of serious injury or death.

Every year, many workers in the U.S. are injured or killed by entering or working in confined spaces. Confined spaces can be found in many workplace settings. The hazards are generally determined by what is stored inside the space, by what processes may be taking place inside the space as well as the structure of the space. Hazards are generally atmospheric (air) or physical in nature.


  1. Is large enough for an employee to enter and perform work;
  2. Has a limited or restricted means of entry or exit; AND
  3. Is not designed for continuous occupancy by the employee.


  • Sewers, Utility Vaults, Manholes, Storm Drains, Septic Tanks
  • Tunnels
  • Degreasing Tank
  • Boilers, Furnaces
  • Tank Cars
  • Cisterns
  • Drained Swimming Pools
  • Pits, Pipelines, Pumping Stations
  • Silos, Storage Bins
  • Trenches, Shafts


As part of their work tasks:

  • Inspection, repair, maintenance
  • New construction
  • Emergency rescue


  • Hazardous air conditions such as:
    • Too little oxygen
    • Too much oxygen
    • Flammable atmospheres, such as from methane or solvents
    • Airborne combustion from dust or explosive gases
    • Toxic chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, or solvents
    • Welding fumes
  • Physical hazards such as:
    • Solid materials than can engulf and suffocate an entrant (loose material such as sand, grain, silage, sawdust, coal)
    • Liquid materials that can engulf and drown an entrant (water, sewerage)
    • Space configurations that can trap an entrant (inwardly converging walls, sloping floors)
    • Mechanical apparatus (gears, conveyors, mulchers)
    • Electrical power
    • Temperature extremes
    • Poor visibility, lack of lighting
    • Falling objects that can strike workers
    • Fall and trip hazards (from lack of firm footing, obstacles, slick surfaces)
    • Other hazards that would make escape or rescue from the area difficult



About how many workers in the U.S. are killed each year after entering or working in a confined space?

  1. 5
  2. 10
  3. 50
  4. 100

ANSWER (Read Aloud)

Around 100 workers are killed in confined spaces each year in the United States. These workers leave behind many family members and friends. Around 60% of workers who die in confined spaces are people who rush in to help the first victim. The tragedy is that all of these deaths can be prevented.


What are examples of possible confined spaces in our workplace?


  • KNOW how to identify a confined space.
  • NEVER enter an area that could be a confined space. Contact your supervisor or safety representative if you have any questions about a space to be entered.
  • DO NOT rely on your senses to determine if a confined space has hazards. A number of hazardous gases are both colorless and odorless.
  • NEVER enter a confined space to try to rescue another worker. Call 911.

HAZARD WARNING! DO NOT enter confined spaces as you are putting yourself at risk of serious injury or death.

Real-Life Examples and Discussion

A useful way to train workers about safety hazards is to present them with real life examples. Read the example below aloud to employees. A copy of the full report, City Engineer Killed in Landfill Manhole When Retrieving Flow Meter, is available. After reading the example aloud, use the questions in the "Discussion" section to get workers to talk about why the accident may have happened."

EXAMPLE 1 (Read Aloud)

In May 2003, a 32-year-old male city engineer collapsed in a manhole in New York while attempting to retrieve a flow meter. On the day of the incident, the victim and one of his co-workers, as well as a student intern, drove to a landfill to replace a battery for a flow meter that had been placed in the manhole. They opened the manhole cover with a pickaxe and the victim began to lift the meter out of the manhole when it fell to the bottom. The victim descended into the manhole to retrieve the meter. As he was about to climb the ladder out of the manhole, he lost consciousness. This happened so quickly, he lost consciousness in seconds. The co-worker called 911 on his cell phone and the fire department responded within minutes. The victim was removed from the manhole and was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. At the time of the recovery, the oxygen concentration at the bottom of the manhole was only 2.1% (should be above 19.5%) and the flammable vapors exceeded 60% of the lower explosive level (should be less than 10%).

Questions can be a good way to get people thinking about a lesson. During this part of the training, discuss what caused the confined space fatality you just read. Listed below are questions you may want to ask and some of the answers you are likely to receive. Because some workers might be hesitant to answer right away, you may want to read one of the answers given below. Then, ask workers whether they think the answer you gave was correct. However, don't give an answer right away. It is best to wait at least 10 seconds after you ask a question before you give an answer. People remember things better when they hear them many times or both hear and see it. If possible, write down the answers workers give to questions on a large writing board. Or, if writing is not possible, repeat the answers aloud.

Questions & Answers (Read Aloud)

  • Was the manhole a confined space?
    1. Was it large enough for an employee to enter? Yes
    2. Was it designed for limited or restricted entry? Yes
    3. Was it designed for continuous human occupancy? No

    All three conditions were met. This space was a confined space.

  • What hazards were in this confined space?

    The space had a hazardous atmosphere of low oxygen level and flammable vapors and was immediately dangerous to life and health. Other physical hazards might include falls.

  • Should the engineer have entered the manhole when he dropped the flow meter?

    No. You should NEVER enter a confined space unless you are a trained and qualified Confined Space Entrant and your employer has permitted this entry in accordance with the company's Confined Space Entry Program.

  • Should the co-workers have tried to rescue the victim?

    No, they too may have been injured or killed by the hazardous air conditions. NEVER enter a confined space to rescue another worker. They immediately called 911 as they should have. Remember in hazardous atmospheres, time is critical; only minutes are available.

  • Some hazards are not apparent to the senses such as low oxygen levels. If you don't see, smell, taste, hear or feel any hazards should you enter a confined space?

    No, NEVER enter a confined space unless you are a trained, qualified Confined Space Entrant. It is impossible to tell by smell or some other sense that the air is safe for entry. Many hazardous gases are colorless and odorless.

    • Not all chemicals or contaminants have an odor (e.g., carbon monoxide).
    • Some chemicals or contaminants can only be detected when such large quantities are present that your health is already in danger (e.g., ethylene oxide, isocyanates).
    • Your nose can become desensitized to strong odors and you may no longer smell it (e.g., hydrogen sulfide).
  • What risks have you encountered in your work activities?

    Discuss the actual work locations and situations you or your co-workers have encountered.

EXAMPLE 2 (Read Aloud)

A useful way to train workers about safety hazards is to present them with real life examples. Read the example below aloud to employees. After reading the example aloud, use the questions in the "Discussion" section to get workers to talk about why the accident may have happened."

A foundry employee was working the graveyard shift performing maintenance on a conveyor drive chain unit. The maintenance involved spraying the drive chain with a degreasing solvent containing methyl chloroform (chemical name: 1,1,1-trichloroethane). Methyl chloroform is heavier than air. Exposure to methyl chloroform can damage the central nervous, lung and cardiovascular systems. The conveyer chain unit was housed in a pit that was 28' long, 14' wide and 5' deep with a ladder on one side for access. He sprayed for an hour before the dinner break. During the break, he reportedly complained to his co-workers that the vapors were bothering him. He returned to the pit and continued spraying after the break.

At the end of the shift, the victim was found lying on his side approximately ten feet from the ladder while the nozzle was still spraying. There were about 10 to 20 gallons of solvent on the floor around the victim. A supervisor first entered the pit through the ladder trying to rescue the victim. He was immediately overcome by the vapor. He fell to his knees, but was able to stand up and climb back up the ladder. The supervisor and a co-worker then attempted to enter the pit while holding their breath, but again had to leave the pit. On the third attempt, they managed to remove the victim out of the pit. They started resuscitation and continued until the emergency medical service arrived. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene. The direct cause of death was determined to be inhalation of methyl chloroform.

Questions can be a good way to get people thinking about a lesson. During this part of the training, discuss what caused the confined space fatality you just read. Listed below are questions you can ask and some of the answers you are likely to receive.

Questions & Answers (Read Aloud)

  • Was the pit a confined space? Why or why not?

    Yes, it meets the three criteria for a confined space.

    Review the three criteria of a confined space:

    • Large enough to enter fully (the pit was 28' long, 14' wide and 5' deep);
    • Not designed for continuous human occupancy (it was designed to hold the chain unit); and
    • Limited or restricted access (there was a ladder attached to the wall).
  • What went wrong?
    • The employee should not have been working in the pit. He had experienced warning symptoms, but didn't report them to his supervisor or to the safety representative. He went back into the pit despite not feeling well.
    • Co-workers didn't stop the employee from going back into the pit.
    • No one had received confined space awareness training.
    • There was no confined space program.
    • A risky rescue could have resulted in a multiple fatalities.
  • What would you do if you were the supervisor and you observed the victim lying in the pit?
    • Call 911 immediately.
    • Do not attempt to rescue the victim by entering the pit.
    • Ensure no one goes down into the pit.
  • Have you ever been in a similar situation of risk?
    • Discuss actual situations you or your co-workers have encountered.

The goal of this part of the review is to get workers talking about their own experiences with confined spaces. Listed below are questions you can use to get people talking and questions you can use to get people to provide more details. You may also want to include information on the consequences for employees who do not follow established safety rules (e.g., verbal warning for first infraction, written warning).

Talking Points

Questions (Real Aloud)

  • What are some of the work activities you and your co-workers do that involve confined spaces?
    • Discuss.
    • Are there other ways to perform the work activity that do not involve entering the confined space?
  • Have you or anyone you know ever had an incident or near-miss incident that involved a confined space?
    • What went wrong?
    • What could have been done to avoid the incident?

Take Away Messages

Review the "Safety Checklist for Confined Spaces" aloud (found after "Definitions/Hazards"). These are the key messages you will want workers to have and remember. Once you have finished reviewing the information, ask if anyone has any comments about the advice. Finally, thank workers for their time and ask them to complete the evaluation form.

Evaluation forms should be returned to you. Completed forms should then be sent to the NY FACE program at the address below. The evaluation will help us to improve this program and make it more useful to workers.

New York State Department of Health
Bureau of Occupational Health and Injury Prevention
Empire State Plaza-Corning Tower, Room 1336
Albany, New York 12237