Sewer entry differs in three vital respects from other permit entries; first, there rarely exists any way to completely isolate the space (a section of a continuous system) to be entered; second, because isolation is not complete, the atmosphere may suddenly and unpredictably become lethally hazardous (toxic, flammable or explosive) from causes beyond the control of the entrant or employer, and third, experienced sewer workers are especially knowledgeable in entry and work in their permit spaces because of their frequent entries. Unlike other employments where permit space entry is a rare and exceptional event, sewer workers' usual work environment is a permit space.
- Adherence to procedure. The employer should designate as entrants only employees who are thoroughly trained in the employer's sewer entry procedures and who demonstrate that they follow these entry procedures exactly as prescribed when performing sewer entries.
- Atmospheric monitoring. Entrants should be trained in the use of, and be equipped with, atmospheric monitoring equipment which sounds an audible alarm, in addition to its visual readout, whenever one of the following conditions are encountered: Oxygen concentration less than 19.5 percent; flammable gas or vapor at 10 percent or more of the lower flammable limit (LFL); or hydrogen sulfide or carbon monoxide at or above 10 ppm or 35 ppm, respectively, measured as an 8-hour time-weighted average. Atmospheric monitoring equipment needs to be calibrated according to the manufacturer's instructions. The oxygen sensor/broad range sensor is best suited for initial use in situations where the actual or potential contaminants have not been identified, because broad range sensors, unlike substance-specific sensors, enable employers to obtain an overall reading of the hydrocarbons (flammables) present in the space. However, such sensors only indicate that a hazardous threshold of a class of chemicals has been exceeded. They do not measure the levels of contamination of specific substances. Therefore, substance-specific devices, which measure the actual levels of specific substances, are best suited for use where actual and potential contaminants have been identified. The measurements obtained with substance-specific devices are of vital importance to the employer when decisions are made concerning the measures necessary to protect entrants (such as ventilation or personal protective equipment) and the setting and attainment of appropriate entry conditions. However, the sewer environment may suddenly and unpredictably change, and the substance-specific devices may not detect the potentially lethal atmospheric hazards which may enter the sewer environment.
Although OSHA considers the information and guidance provided above to be appropriate and useful in most sewer entry situations, the Agency emphasizes that each employer must consider the unique circumstances, including the predictability of the atmosphere, of the sewer permit spaces in the employer's workplace in preparing for entry. Only the employer can decide, based upon his or her knowledge of, and experience with permit spaces in sewer systems, what the best type of testing instrument may be for any specific entry operation.
The selected testing instrument should be carried and used by the entrant in sewer line work to monitor the atmosphere in the entrant's environment, and in advance of the entrant's direction of movement, to warn the entrant of any deterioration in atmospheric conditions. Where several entrants are working together in the same immediate location, one instrument, used by the lead entrant, is acceptable.
- Surge flow and flooding. Sewer crews should develop and maintain liaison, to the extent possible, with the local weather bureau and fire and emergency services in their area so that sewer work may be delayed or interrupted and entrants withdrawn whenever sewer lines might be suddenly flooded by rain or fire suppression activities, or whenever flammable or other hazardous materials are released into sewers during emergencies by industrial or transportation accidents.
- Special Equipment. Entry into large bore sewers may require the use of special equipment. Such equipment might include such items as atmosphere monitoring devices with automatic audible alarms, escape self-contained breathing apparatus (ESCBA) with at least 10 minute air supply (or other NIOSH approved self-rescuer), and waterproof flashlights, and may also include boats and rafts, radios and rope stand-offs for pulling around bends and corners as needed.