Spokane Journal of Business

Confined spaces on the move

Oxarc, Honeywell partner to build vault environment for mock hazard scenarios

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-—Staff photo by Treva Lind
Oxarc Inc.'s Don Gilbert, Greg Walmsley, and Mike Standley stand near the company's new confined-space mobile training unit.

Employees doing work in confined spaces such as a silo, manhole, pit, or vault must follow strict safety procedures under state and federal rules.

This year, Spokane-based Oxarc Inc. began offering a new way to train employees to follow safety rules for tight quarters by offering a simulated confined-space environment, on top of and inside a recently constructed specialty trailer.

Oxarc hauls the confined-space mobile training unit to customers' workplaces in Central and Eastern Washington, as well as to parts of Idaho and Oregon.

Mike Standley, Oxarc's Spokane-based safety division sales manager, says the company spent in excess of $20,000 to develop the 20-foot trailer in partnership with Honeywell Safety Products, a Morris Township, N.J.-based manufacturer of worker safety equipment.

The trailer offers a number of props, and an entry point from a rooftop platform, to simulate conditions that a worker would encounter in confined work spaces, along with mock "hazard" scenarios that might occur, such as a gas leak, Standley says.

The platform is set up with side railings that Oxarc can collapse when the trailer is being transported, and its top is made with reinforced aluminum to serve as the platform surrounding a central 30-inch-by-30-inch entry. The trailer's platform also includes safety harness equipment and a ventilation system for pumping fresh air into the space.

"A confined-space work situation could be someone having to adjust equipment in a lift station," Standley says. "With the trailer, the overview task might be to shut off a valve. In the process, they plan their entry and put on appropriate equipment like the hard hat, safety eyewear."

He adds, "While someone is in the trailer, we try to throw something at them like a gas detector warning, so it's quite hands on. If gas detector goes off, they're supposed to exit immediately and analyze what to do next from the surface."

Gauges and other training props are inside of the trailer compartment. Other mock situations might include low oxygen or the detection of a toxic substance, which also require immediate evacuation.

Oxarc charges $800 per training session for up to 20 people that includes classroom instruction, a test, exercises using the trailer, and safety equipment inspection, Standley says. A session typically runs for a full day.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that enforces workplace safety and health, defines "confined" as any workspace an employee must enter, work in, and exit that has limited or restricted means for entry or exit. OSHA says confined spaces include underground vaults, tanks, storage bins, manholes, pits, silos, and pipelines.

Standley says workers must follow confined-space safety rules, such as wearing a rescue harness attached to retrieval equipment when entering those spaces. If a worker needs assistance because of an accident, co-workers who are above ground can use the retrieval equipment with a mechanical winch to pull the person out.

"Confined-space entry is a pretty complex standard," Standley adds. "This trailer can serve public utilities and any general industry including manufacturing, food processing, even the wine industry."

Dalena Tripplet, director of safety services at Spokane-based employer association group Associated Industries, says she has partnered recently with Oxarc to provide a number of confined-space training sessions to employer members. One of those sessions included training for city of Spokane wastewater operations employees using the trailer.

"Oxarc has a great trailer; it's state-of-the-art for training, and they can put in different scenarios," Tripplet says. "Having a mobile confined-space trailer so you can do training on-site with the actual tools you would need is always better than trying to teach concepts in the classroom."

Typically, Oxarc will place four people at a time on the trailer's platform for training, while other small groups are doing classroom work, watching training videos, or completing other assignments, says Don Gilbert, an Oxarc sales representative and trainer. As they do the trailer-site session, groups must plan the entry, dress in proper gear, and prepare the safety equipment.

"We typically break them into four teams, and we rotate them through," Gilbert says. "We do have different scenarios for every group. If I see them do a big mistake, I'll stop them then and there and do some training, or I'll reinforce something done right."

Standley adds, "They can apply what they've learned in a safe, but challenging environment."

Oxarc has two offices in Spokane and a total of 21 offices in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. The branches here include its headquarters at 4003 E. Broadway and a facility at 3417 E. Springfield.

Overall, the company sells welding and industrial supplies, safety products, industrial and medical gases, and provides product repair services, fire extinguisher sales service and training, and fire suppression systems installation and service. It also operates two welding schools.

Additionally, its safety division provides different worker safety seminars and consulting services, but its confined-space entry training session currently is one of its most popular, Standley says.

"We've probably held half a dozen classes in the past six weeks," he says. "The average size of classes is from 12 to 20 people. We serve a lot of rural area customers, so we'll maybe have a small community host it and invite nearby communities."

He adds, "We started working on it about two years ago with Honeywell Safety, and we always want to keep the material fresh. The trailer has been really functional since June. It's always going to be a work in progress, as it should be, with the nature of adding new props."

Standley says Oxarc often provides the training sessions with the new trailer to satisfy continuing-education requirements for water and wastewater operators, which as an industry requires workers to enter confined spaces more frequently than most others, he adds.

Oxarc previously had offered similar confined-space entry training, but the class usually was a three-hour overview of safety standards with some show-and-tell for how to use equipment, but without the ability for people in the class to practice hands-on applications, he says.

Tripplet says Associated Industries also provides worksite safety audits and safety equipment inspections for its members.

Treva Lind
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