Confined Space Attendant Requirements

Two workers rehearse a confined space rescue using the Pelsue LifeGuard

Don’t be mistaken: confined space attendants have crucial duties and responsibilities. 

If you’ve ever observed work going on in a permit-required confined space, you may have asked yourself, “why is that person just standing there? What does a confined space attendant actually do?” 

Perhaps part of the problem is the naming. After all, the terms for the other two roles in permit-required confined space (PRCS) work—entrant and supervisor—pretty clearly describe what they do: enter the confined space and supervise the operation. 

But “attendant” fails to describe the multifaceted and massively important job duties of the worker stationed just outside the confined space.

We want to take some time to outline what the responsibilities of a confined space attendant actually are and the crucial skills to look for in confined space attendants. 

OSHA Requirements

Two workers rehearse a confined space rescue using the Pelsue Davit System

Confined space attendants are a vital link between workers in danger and rescue.

Fortunately for us, OSHA outlines the specific duties of confined space attendants. Let’s go through them one by one with some additional explanation from us.

It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that each PRCS attendant: 

    • Is familiar with and understands the hazards that may be faced during entry, including information on the mode, signs or symptoms, and consequences of the exposure; the attendant has to be knowledgeable both of the general hazards that exist in every space and the specific hazards of the given space. Your attendant(s) should be thoroughly trained on the effects of different gases on people and the proper way to handle an injured co-worker.
    • Is aware of possible behavioral effects of hazard exposure in authorized entrants; fatigue, confusion, irritability, and more are among the first signs that a worker is suffering from toxicity relating to gas.
    • Continuously maintains an accurate count of authorized entrants and ensures that the means used to identify authorized entrants under § 1926.1206(d) accurately identifies who is in the permit spacethis is pretty straightforward. The requirement lists names, tracking systems, or rosters as ways of counting workers in a PRCS.
    • Remains outside the permit space during entry operations until relieved by another attendant; there’s an important, often overlooked distinction here. Contrary to widespread belief, attendants can enter the PRCS—say to assist with an entry-required rescue. The catch is they must have another qualified attendant take their place before entering.
    • Communicates with authorized entrants as necessary to assess entrant status and alert entrants of the need to evacuate the space under § 1926.1208(e); this is one of the key basic skills of confined space attendants we’ll touch on below. Suffice to say here that PRCS attendants need to be able to remain attentive and communicative for the duration of entry operations.
    • Assesses, activities and conditions inside and outside the space to determine if it is safe for entrants to remain in the space and orders the authorized entrants to evacuate the permit space immediately if: 
      • there is a prohibited condition
      • the behavioral effects of hazard exposure are apparent in an authorized entrant
      • there is a situation outside the space that could endanger the entrants
      • the attendant cannot effectively and safely perform all their required duties;
    • Summons rescue and other emergency services as soon as the attendant determines that entrants may need assistance to escape from permit space hazards; the confined space attendant is the link between endangered entrants and rescue. If nothing else, this alone highlights how important attendants are.
    • Takes the following actions when unauthorized persons approach or enter a PRCS while entry is underway:
      • Warns the unauthorized persons that they must stay away from the PRCS
      • Advises the unauthorized persons that they must exit immediately if they have entered the PRCS 
      • Informs the authorized entrants and supervisor if unauthorized persons have entered the PRCS;
    • Performs non-entry rescues as specified by the employer’s rescue procedure; these actions will vary according to the needs of the space and the specific equipment at hand. Whatever your procedures, it’s crucial that your team study the procedures and rehearse if necessary.
    • Performs no duties that might interfere with the attendant’s primary duty to assess and protect the authorized entrants; this is not a situation where someone can pull double duty. While it may look like the attendant doesn’t have enough on their plate, they need to continue giving every ounce of their attention to the workers in the PRCS.

Qualities of a Good Confined Space Attendant

Hopefully by going over the above job duties, we’ve helped shine some light on the important job confined space attendants do. So what should you look for when you’re looking to become an attendant or looking to assign someone to be your attendant?

Looking at the list above, there are a few qualities we believe are essential for your confined space attendants 

First, they have to be knowledgeable. This starts well before anyone enters the confined space. They must be willing to study the effects of gases and other hazards that may be present in any PRCS so that, should an emergency arise, they’re able to recognize it. On top of that, they should be involved in studying the specific space of a given job so they are aware of what hazards workers are more likely to face.  

A deployed Pelsue LifeGuard

The Pelsue LifeGuard is one of our trusted tools for confined space rescue.

Make sure they are trained on the specific tools they might need to use, like our Quick Rescue HoistRescue PoleDavit System, or our range of other fall protection and rescue & retrieval options.  

Second, confined space attendants need to be focused. Attendants need to be able to devote their attention solely to the work taking place inside the PRCS for the entire duration of the job. You want someone who is not easily distracted and able to stay committed to the task the whole time. 

Finally, it is key that attendants be communicative. All the knowledge and attention in the world means nothing if the attendant is not keeping in touch with entrants and supervisors. If an attendant sees danger but doesn’t communicate it to the responsible parties, workers could be seriously harmed or killed. If nothing else, choose an attendant who communicates promptly and clearly. 

For anyone who still doubts the importance of confined space attendants and their work, consider Michael Collins, the third Apollo 11 astronaut. Everyone remembers Aldrin and Armstrong for walking on the moon and acknowledge the work of mission control in supervising the whole mission. But Michael Collins was there, orbiting the moon in the command module, and his staying back is the only thing that made it possible for the astronauts to get home. 

In the end, that is what confined space attendants do. They are the key players that make sure everyone gets home. That’s a core part of our mission here at Pelsue, so you can see why we have a soft spot for the often-overlooked but crucial work of confined space attendants. 

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