Tight Squeeze: Essential Gear for Cramped Quarters

Make the proper PPE choices for your employees working in confined spaces.

Headaches, hang-ups and chronic pain. Whether you’re stuffed in a cargo bin or crammed in a crawl space, tight quarters mean a smaller margin of error for workers. One tiny move can have big repercussions, either immediate or down the road. So making the proper PPE considerations and taking the right preventative measures can go a long way in making sure the job gets done safely and comfortably.

Just because a job doesn’t require a hard hat doesn’t mean head injury risks don’t exist. Mechanics, airline workers and in-home service employees are often working in tight quarters with nothing but a ball cap or a few hair follicles between their heads and potential bumps, bruises and seriously nasty cuts.

While hard hats are designed to protect from “object-generated impact”—which involves an object falling onto the worker—bump caps are designed to protect against “worker-generated impact,” where the worker initiates the contact. 

The injury might not be catastrophic but could still get ugly and expensive. A National Institute of Health study estimates the average cost of an emergency room visit totals $1,200.

What to look for: The best bump caps are built around impact-resistant ABS plastic shells with padded foam cushion and strategic venting for comfort. Look for other options like different brim lengths and underbrim lighting (tight spots are often poorly lit) to better match the task being done. For those workers who wear a ball cap as part of a uniform, or just have a favorite hat they like to work in, bump cap inserts allow them to turn any hat into head protection in just seconds. 

It’s important to note that hard hats and bump caps are NOT interchangeable. If a hard hat is required, a bump cap won’t suffice. They’re tested to different standards and for different hazards (the only bump cap standard in the world right now is the European standard: EN 812: 2012).

HIGH AND TIGHT

The introduction of ANSI/ISEA 121-2018 (the dropped objects standard) last year legitimized active preventative measures like tool lanyards as best practice for preventing dropped and falling objects accidents. 

How do we make sure these solutions aren’t creating unforeseen hazards themselves for workers ascending to heights and navigating tight spaces or moving parts? 

What to look for: Traditional-style lanyards are great in most circumstances, but the hang up comes when quarters get close and snag hazards abound. Retractable lanyards solve that issue by storing the full lanyard length in a compact, low-profile housing when not needed. Similarly, coiled lanyards eliminate snag hazards by sitting in a tight, compact “coil” that expands to full length to use the tool.

Quality and durability vary greatly for both retractable and coiled lanyards. The first thing to look out for in both solutions is that they meet the new ANSI/ISEA 121 standard. 
Make sure your retractable lanyard uses a tethering cord made of high-strength and cut-resistant materials. An easy-to-use trigger switch is important as well for functionality’s sake. This allows workers to set a desired lanyard length so there’s not a constant tension on their tool when getting the job done. Ideally, the trigger system can be deactivated with another simple flip of the switch or by pulling the tether to release the lock.

CRAWL COMFORTABLY 

Oftentimes, tight work spaces and low overhead can bring you to your knees. And every time a worker takes a knee it takes a toll—they just might not know how much until it’s too late. 
Some of the most common workplace knee injuries happen little by little (like prepatellar bursitis and osteoarthritis), an accumulation of every crouch, squat and kneel. Of course more immediate dangers lurk about too—punctures, lacerations, cuts and the like. 

Choosing the right knee protection is vital for those who spend a good deal of time in the kneeling position (and putting 89% of their body weight on a small surface area). The rationale for using knee pads is to protect the knee by distributing your weight over a larger surface area and reduce the force passed on to soft tissue.

What to look for: High-quality knee pads should conform to the shape of the knee as they move and change position. 

Shaped knee pads with foam lining, gel sheets, or injected gel materials are designed to surround the knee joint, conform to and cradle it, and most importantly, stabilize it when pressure is applied. The padding is designed to distribute pressure across the entire knee area, as well as to absorb some of the impact associated with moving around, shifting weight when changing positions or “walking” on your knees.

Another big consideration is application. Are you sliding and rocking (freight and baggage), or staying stationary for long periods of time (plumbing and maintenance)? 

The former would require a hard cap that encourages movement and reduces the chances of workers “walking” out of their knee pads. The latter would require a soft rubber cap that grips the surface and eliminates slipping and sliding when stability is needed most.  

Greg Schrab is senior vice president of operations & product management with Ergodyne (www.ergodyne.com), a provider of safety gear and training solutions.

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