Most bulk material handling plants have confined spaces that are restricted or limited for access and not designed for continuous occupancy.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), more than 1.5 million workers enter confined spaces each year. Because of the nature of confined spaces, workers must enter them with great caution and awareness of personal safety. In bulk material handling, confined spaces include but are not limited to:

  • tanks
  • vessels
  • silos
  • storage bins
  • hoppers
  • vaults
  • pits
  • manholes
  • tunnels
  • equipment housings
  • ductwork
  • pipelines

Unfortunately, most injuries and fatalities in confined spaces are due to employers and workers failing to recognize, plan for and control the hazards of these areas. Personnel can get trapped cleaning loose material or performing repairs and maintenance in them. Confined spaces also often have limited oxygen or toxic or combustible air.

A review of confined-space fatalities across all industries by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that each event involved a lack of recognition and testing, evaluation, monitoring, or well-planned rescue. A separate report from a different source cited that 60% of confined-space fatalities are rescuers.

OSHA studies also have found that material handling and logistics workers can be the most exposed to and affected by confined spaces, particularly at facilities that have:

  • silos or bins used to load rail cars or trucks
  • processes where loading rail cars or trucks with bulk material can result in worker engulfment
  • storage tanks, silos, tanker rail cars, or tanker trucks that need to be cleaned
  • ships where workers enter their holds, tanks, and storage compartments and can suffocate, mainly where fumigants are used

OSHA estimates that if proper safety standards are followed, more than 50 worker deaths, 5,000 lost-day cases, and 5,700 other accidents can be avoided annually.

Confined Space Permits

OSHA guidelines establish that areas that contain or have the potential to contain a severe and atmospheric hazard should be classified as permit-required confined spaces, tested before entry, and continually monitored.

A confined space that requires a permit for entry is large enough for an employee to enter and work in, has limited means of entry and exit, and is not ideal or intended for extended occupancy.

A confined space requiring a permit also contains at least one of the following:

  • a substance that can potentially engulf or suffocate a person inside a potentially hazardous environment
  • walls that converge inward or a sloped floor that tapers to a small cross-section
  • any other potential health or safety hazard

Note that some confined spaces do not require a permit for entry. Instead, these areas are identified and defined as not containing hazardous conditions, including any elements that could later become a hazard.

Production Challenges

Bulk material handling owners and managers know the risks involved with working in confined spaces. A confined space can make personnel vulnerable to loose or falling material, which has resulted in fatalities at mines and injuries at both metal and nonmetal bulk material operations.

Loose or falling material can become a particular hazard where a confined space has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area that can trap or bury and asphyxiate a worker.

Other hazards of confined spaces at bulk material handling operations can include unguarded machinery, exposed live electrical wires, and intense heat.

Taking Greater Control of Confined Spaces

Bulk material handlers can reinforce greater safety and production in permit-required confined spaces by remaining current with OSHA’s guidelines. A good safety strategy for confined spaces includes:

  • thorough risk assessments
  • atmospheric testing
  • confined space–access training
  • specific entry procedures & policies
  • proper personal protective equipment
  • proper ventilation
  • trained support crew outside the space
  • well-defined rescue plan

Just as important, operators can help ensure safety by using bulk material handling equipment that adapts to confined spaces and keeps them clean.

As specialists in safe, compliant, and efficient bulk material handling, Benetech provides innovative ways to protect personnel while achieving greater production. For example, we offer operators conveyor belt components for safer maintenance and conveyor belt cleaning solutions for keeping confined spaces clear of material.

Belt Support and Load Zone Containment

The retractable, side-support Drop & Slide Idler allows the dismantling, inspection, and service of conveyor idler rollers by just one person from one side of the conveyor. When in the retracted position, the roller unit simply slides out from beneath the conveyor belt.

If access to a side of the conveyor belt isn’t restricted, the roller frames of Benetech’s Simple Slide Idler slide right into place without having to raise the belt or remove adjacent idlers, even in tighter spaces.

For your conveyor belt skirting system in the load zone, the patented MaxZone® XN Externally Adjusted Internal Wear Liner is placed in the conventional position inside the skirtboard, but staff can access the adjusting mechanism from the outside. As a result, they never need to enter the chute to remove the liner or make adjustments.

The XN Wear Liner also can be combined with the B-Plus Apron Seal with polyurethane to provide two layers of protection against spillage and dust.

What is an idler roller?

Idler rollers are cylinder-shaped components that convey bulk material through a machine, process, or environment. For example, idler rollers running beneath a conveyor belt form a trough that keeps loose material from falling off the belt. They do not receive direct mechanical input from a power source but may be linked to transmission by the conveyor belt or contact with other moving parts. They also adjust or maintain tension in a transmission.

Conveyor Belt Cleaning Solutions

Quick and simple to install, maintain and replace, our Motorized Brush Cleaner prevents material from getting trapped in recessed areas that standard blade-type cleaners cannot reach. The conveyor brush works only when the belt moves, and the motor turns the cleaner opposite the belt direction for optimal self-cleaning.

Another common hazard is material that gets pinched between the belt and the return pulley, which can cause the belt to break. Benetech’s V-Plow is an excellent conveyor belt cleaning solution for removing the material before the belt reaches the return pulley, keeping both the pulley and the belt’s bottom cover free of stray material that can fall.


MaxClean primary belt cleaners remove material that adheres to the belt after unloading. The BEP1, our most popular primary belt cleaner, features an abrasion-resistant conveyor belt scraper blade for highly efficient belt cleaning. In addition, its compact modular design allows for easy mounting in tight chute applications, making blade changes safe and quick. A self-contained torsion tensioner makes the BEP1 easy to re-tension as well.

MaxClean secondary belt cleaners are installed right behind the drive pulley. In addition, the best-selling BES1 features a blade holder that keeps the center of the conveyor belt scraper blade on the belt. The blade ends push down for even pressure across the conveyor scraper blade, which also arcs into the center to maintain blade-to-belt contact. With a total height of just 5”, the BES1’s low-profile modular design is ideal for confined-space chutes.

Benetech: Your Partner in Safer, Cleaner Confined Spaces

At Benetech, we focus all of our knowledge and resources on creating ways to make your facility more productive and profitable in a safer environment. If you would like to discuss further how we can support you with solutions for your confined spaces, contact us at (630) 844-1300 to speak with a specialist.

Posted in Dust Control, and Maintenance