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Confined Space Ventilation

Ventilation controls the atmospheric hazards of a confined space by replacing unsafe air with clean, breathable air. There are several methods for ventilating a confined space. The method and equipment used depend on the following factors:

  • Size of the confined space
  • Atmosphere
  • Source of the makeup air

For most confined spaces, fans or other air-moving equipment can provide adequate ventilation. Two common types of mechanical ventilation include local exhaust ventilation and general ventilation.

Local exhaust ventilation captures contaminants at their point of origin and removes them. This type of ventilation method is ideal for flammable and toxic materials produced at a single point (e.g., hotwork and work involving cleaning solvents). When using this type of ventilation system, keep the exhaust intake close to your work. Do not use this type of ventilation system for contaminants that are widely dispersed or for confined spaces that make ventilation difficult. Instead, use general ventilation.

General ventilation flushes the atmosphere by supplying and exhausting large volumes of air. Because this system does not reduce the amount of contaminants released, it is not recommended for highly toxic atmospheres. General ventilation is ideal for providing oxygen and controlling low concentrations of materials that are not highly toxic. When using this type of ventilation system during hotwork, monitor the atmosphere continuously and wear a SCBA, as necessary.

Ventilation alone cannot reduce some atmospheric hazards to safe levels. Use atmospheric testing to confirm whether the ventilation system has been successful.

Follow these guidelines for ventilating confined spaces:

  • Begin ventilation in time to assure that the space is safe before entry.
  • Test the atmosphere before entry to confirm that the ventilation system is working properly and that the space is safe.
  • Continue ventilation as long as the space is occupied, or at least until the oxygen levels and hazardous concentrations are within safe limits.
  • If work inside the space can make the air unsafe (e.g., hotwork, painting, using solvents, sandblasting, etc.) continue ventilating.

Ventilation System Example
Typical Exhaust Duct

May 2011
Revised November 2014