Hazardous atmosphere: Characteristics & OSHA recommendations

Hazardous atmosphere

What is a hazardous atmosphere 

Hazardous atmosphere is an atmosphere that may expose employees to the risk of death, incapacitation, impairment of ability to self-rescue, injury, or acute illness.

It can also be said to be any atmospheric condition that is immediately dangerous to life or health.

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The presence of a hazardous atmosphere is mostly prevalent in confine spaces.

Characteristics of a hazardous atmosphere 

The Ontario Ministry of labour have highlighted some characteristics of a hazardous atmosphere to include:

  • When the atmosphere
    has too much or too little oxygen; or,
  • When it contains flammable, combustible or explosive agents; or,
  • When it contains contaminants (for example, fumes, dusts, mists) that could pose an immediate threat to life or interfere with a person’s ability to escape unaided from a confined space.
  • When the concentration of flammable gases, fumes and the like exceeds five per cent of their lower explosive limit (LEL).

However, an atmosphere have to meet one or more of this characteristics before it can be termed a “Hazardous atmosphere”.

Read more: Hazardous waste – Characteristics, Management & Treatment

OSHA has given guidelines on how to work Safety in an atmosphere that is hazardous:



Purpose and scope: This section covers areas in which the employer is aware that a hazardous atmosphere or substance may exist, except where one or more of the following sections apply: § 1917.22 Hazardous cargo; § 1917.24 Carbon monoxide; § 1917.25 Fumigants, pesticides, insecticides and hazardous preservatives; § 1917.73 Terminal facilities handling menhaden and similar species of fish; § 1917.152 Welding, cutting, and heating (hot work); and § 1917.153 Spray painting.


Determination of hazard


When the employer is aware that a room, building, vehicle, railcar or other space contains or has contained a hazardous atmosphere, a designated and appropriately equipped person shall test the atmosphere before employee entry to determine whether a hazardous atmosphere exists.


Records of results of any tests required by this section shall be maintained for at least thirty (30) days.


Testing during ventilation. When mechanical ventilation is used to maintain a safe atmosphere, tests shall be made by a designated person to ensure that the atmosphere is not hazardous.


Entry into hazardous atmospheres. Only designated persons shall enter hazardous atmospheres, in which case the following shall apply:


Persons entering a space containing a hazardous atmosphere shall be protected by respiratory and emergency protective equipment meeting the requirement of Subpart E of this part;


Persons entering a space containing a hazardous atmosphere shall be instructed in the nature of the hazard, precautions to be taken, and the use of protective and emergency equipment. Standby observers, similarly equipped and instructed, shall continuously monitor the activity of employees within such space;


Except for emergency or rescue operations, employees shall not enter into any atmosphere which has been identified as flammable or oxygen deficient (less than 19.5% oxygen). Persons who may be required to enter flammable or oxygen deficient atmospheres in emergency operations shall be instructed in the dangers attendant to those atmospheres and instructed in the use of self-contained breathing apparatus, which shall be utilized.


To prevent inadvertent employee entry into spaces that have been identified as having hazardous, flammable or oxygen deficient atmospheres, appropriate warning signs or equivalent means shall be posted at all means of access to those spaces.


When the packaging of asbestos cargo leaks, spillage shall be cleaned up by designated employees protected from the harmful effects of asbestos as required by 1910.1001 of this chapter.


Read More: Confine space entry procedures that works


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