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Confined Spaces

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Chapter 13 of the textbook and the American Welding Society’s fact sheet titled “Hot Work in Confined Spaces” share much of the same information. However, they present the information differently. Also, the fact sheet is clearly intended to be a quick reference sheet, while the textbook is designed for a reader to spend time perusing. Both have useful information and are excellent resources depending upon the purpose a person has when referencing the two documents.

The two sources differ in a few key ways. One way that the two documents contrast is that the textbook summarizes the history of confined spaces related danger and the AWS fact sheet does not include any historical information. Chapter 13 says that the realization that working in a confined space can be dangerous goes clear back to Roman times. The textbook also cites several examples of historical references to the dangers of working in confined spaces. Then it details some National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studies about the numbers and types of deaths related to confined spaces, but does not specifically mention welding in confined spaces. In fact, the studies done by NIOSH show that most of the deaths are due to poisoning or drowning, not welding related incidents. These are interesting reading and help to describe the necessity for the regulations that have evolved over the years. However, the fact that Romans knew that working in confined spaces could be potentially dangerous does not help a modern day person understand and apply those regulations.

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The AWS fact sheet, on the other hand, lives up to its name and succinctly cites the specifics of the current regulations. Divided into areas of concern for quick reference, the fact sheet is very easy to read and understand. The six areas of concern on the fact sheet include “Nature of the Hazard,” “Examples of Confined Space,””Reasons for Death and Serious Injuries from Hot work in Confined Spaces,” “Actions Required Before Approving Hot Work in a Confined Space,” “Required Actions during Hot Work in a Confined Space,” and “Information Sources” (American Welding Society, 2009). Below these subheadings, the fact sheet is formatted with bullet points, lists, and brief details about each of the areas of concern. The textbook also uses subheadings, but no bullet points and only one numbered list. At the end of the chapter there is a chart titled “Confined Space Classification,” but other than that, the textbook is not designed for efficiency. Clearly the AWS fact sheet was designed to be easier to reference and the textbook was designed for a more leisurely read.

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The two documents do share some things in common.  Some of the facts cited on the AWS fact sheet are at least similar if not identical to the Chapter 13’s facts.  Both documents list various spaces that are considered “confined,” but only the textbook offers a formal  definition of a confined space. Rather the fact sheet defines ostensibly by offering examples. The text book list examples too including “storage tanks, compartments of ships, process vessels, pits, silos, vats, wells, sewers, digesters, degreasers, reaction vessels, boilers, ventilation and exhaust ducts, tunnels, underground utility vaults, and pipelines”. The fact sheet lists all but “digesters” and in addition also lists “small rooms, unventilated room areas, furnaces, and conveyers” (American Welding Society, 2009, p. 1). Other characteristics the two documents share include brevity—the fact sheet is only two pages long, the textbook section, four, and universal readability (i.e. reading level).

Both the textbook and the AWS fact sheet contain valuable information. In fact, the contain quite a bit of the same information. The difference between the two documents lies in the reader’s purpose. If a person were looking for general and historical information about confined spaces, then the textbook would be the document of choice. However, if the person’s purpose was to reference information quickly, then s/he would want to read the AWS fact sheet.

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