Sunday, November 14, 2010

Confined Spaces and Responder Psychology- Part Two of Three

- P

Maintenance Workers and Contractors
Are Not the Only Ones
Who Should be Afraid of Confined Spaces


Confined spaces are dangerous for maintenance workers and contracters.  That's why a Michigan Company called Bharat Forge America out of Lansing was fined $126,000 for confined space entry violations.  OSHA has very specific strictures regarding the gas detection equipment required to enter confined spaces.  They don't take kindly to people who are not properly outfitted for gas detection.  But a group of contractors that I was training last week tipped me to another hazard- anxiety attacks and the confused thinking that results from them.

Estimates vary, but most psychologists are comfortable with assessments that 5-10% of the world's population suffers from claustrophia.  Claustrophobia is essentially a fear of being trapped in a confined space. 

What the construction workers pointed out to me was that even with proper safety equipment, the anxiety some of them experienced made it occasionally difficult to properly use that equipment.  Although I was at first skeptical, as they continued to talk about the effects of claustrophobic feelings (constant dread of suffocation and the need to flee), I remembered a worker I've mentioned before who when faced with an emergency ran roughly a quarter mile to ask a co-worker the phone number for 911.

Later, I spoke to other people who have entered confined spaces in emergency scenarios that required portable gas detectors.  One confessed to having been in such dread of entering a sewer emitting an awful smell that he forgot to turn the detector on.

That's a recipe for disaster.

The ability to process information is diminshed.  Memory and training can be clouded for even the most experienced responder.  There is an inability to focus.  Not the proper mindset for a responder.
Have you had experiences with this particular issue?  Have you ever thought about the effects of Confined Space Entry on the psychology and functionality of yourself or your team?  Do you routinely screen your responders for claustrophobia? 

It's worth thinking about.

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