Am I at Risk of Inert Gas Suffocation in an Enclosed Space?

Am I at Risk of Inert Gas Suffocation in an Enclosed Space?

Inert gases like argon don’t do much, which is why they are so useful in manual labor, like welding, where the work has to be performed in a non-combustible atmosphere to prevent fires or, worse, explosions, but while argon can make the work environment safer, it can also kill.

Work in confined spaces always carry more risk of serious personal injury than work elsewhere – in fact, one estimate calculated that it is 150 times riskier to work in an enclosed space. Sadly, incidents of inert gas suffocation, including argon gas suffocation, are anything but rare and can occur both on the water and on-shore.

Oftentimes, these rescue fatalities are due to mechanical equipment failures, like portable gas detectors failing or failure to follow safety procedures in entering confined spaces or lack of safety equipment.

To prevent injuries and loss of life, employers should establish protocols that:

  • Identify the risks to personnel carrying out the work and make sure they are informed.
  • Define requirements, roles and responsibilities to control, monitor and supervise the work.
  • Check gas presence; understand how the work itself may change the atmospheric conditions.
  • Check for adequate ventilation, lighting, means of communication and escape.
  • Issue and display step by step work permits for each work phase, along with specific job safety analyses.
  • Station a trained attendant at the entrance to an enclosed space at all times.
  • Make sure communication and rescue equipment are readily available.
  • Carry and use portable/personal gas detectors
  • provide proper safety equipment to crew entering space

Latti’s Little Extra: Too often, there is more than one seaman casualty in an accident – about two thirds of causalities are would-be rescuers.

Latti & Anderson LLP – Nationwide Maritime Attorneys