Confined Spaces – The dangers, the regulations and how to manage them

GEMMA COLLINS DOYLE

Health and Safety Consultant at EazySAFE

I have worked as a safety professional now for well over fifteen years and confined spaces is definitely one of those major hazards that gets me thinking every time. 

 

Before we get into the ins and outs (excuse the pun!) of what confined spaces actually are and how to manage them, I want to tell you a little story. Years ago, I was arranging confined space training for a team of people who would enter vessels only a few times a year. The trainer was excellent and opened up the training with a story of how he had the unfortunate experience of being involved in a rescue operation (many years ago) involving a confined space. Unfortunately, the individual passed away and the trainer spoke passionately about how this had affected him and made him get into the area of health and safety. Unbeknownst to the trainer, the son of the man who he had tried to rescue was on the training. Needless to say, it was an emotional moment for everyone, but it really hit home about how serious the dangers of confined spaces are and how important training and proper procedures are.

Induction training gives a great first impression

“It is important to remember that there is no “one solution fits all” fix for confined spaces hazards.”

What is a Confined Space?

The definition of a confined space is:

“any place, including any vessel, tank, container, pit, bund, chamber, cellar or any other similar space which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, creates conditions that give rise to a likelihood of an accident, harm or injury of such a nature as to require emergency action due to the presences or reasonable foreseeable presence of:

– flammable or explosive atmospheres

– harmful gas, fume or vapour

– free flowing solid or an increasing level of liquid

– excess of oxygen

– excessively high temperature

– the lack or reasonably foreseeable lack of oxygen”

Identifying Confined Spaces

Knowing, identifying and informing people of what and where your confined spaces are, is your number one priority in managing confined spaces.

Confined spaces are found in many industries across the world. The existence of confined spaces in some workplace environments is reasonably easy to identify and understand. Tanks, vessels, sewers and the like are known to be confined spaces to people in the industry that use them and arrange work inside them. The presence of confined spaces in mostly commercial, or non-industrial premises, is less well known. Service ducts, loft and void spaces, some plant rooms and similar areas are found in premises like colleges, hospitals, and other large premises.

So, for this reason it may prove a challenge for some companies to easily identify confined spaces. My advice on this one, get an expert in. Having a confined space expert review your site is the best starting point. He/she will walk your entire site and record all the confined spaces, number them and should supply you with a detailed report on same.

“Knowing, identifying and informing people of what and where your confined spaces are, is your number one priority in managing confined spaces.”

The Hazards of a Confined Space

A confined space can have one or more of these hazards:

  • Toxic atmosphere
  • Oxygen Deficiency
  • Oxygen Enrichment
  • Flammable or Explosive Atmospheres
  • Flowing Liquid or Free Flowing Solids
  • Excessive Heat

This is a serious list of hazards and ones that will need to be managed in a very careful and controlled way.

Legal Requirements for Confined Space Entry

First things first, avoid entering confined spaces unless completely necessary.

  • Risk assessment and Hazard Identification – These must be carried out before any work commences
  • System of work – work must be planned, organised, performed and maintained so that the work can be carried out safely and without risk to health.
  • Training – anyone who enters a confined space must be fully trained and given the correct and appropriate instruction.
  • Emergency Arrangements – suitable arrangements which are appropriate to the confined space. Arrangements should include: practical measures to keep all involved in the rescue safe, the provision of suitable and reliable means of raising the alarm, suitable rescue equipment, suitable training and equipment for resuscitation procedures, if needed.

Other things to consider:

  • Ensure all confined spaces are signed and numbered
  • Use a Permit to Work
  • Ensure all equipment is fit for purpose and maintained regularly
  • Consider onsite training if possible
  • Review your confined space report on a regular basis or when things change
  • Consider the health and fitness of the employees entering the confined space/assisting in rescue

Conclusion

So, there is a lot more to confined spaces than meets the eye. It is important to remember that there is no “one solution fits all” fix for confined spaces hazards. It is critical to examine all the details of the job that is being undertaken and the environment it is being carried out in. You may not have all the answers! Call on engineers, consultants or other experts to make sure you have all the bases covered. Keep an open mind to confined space entry and you will contribute to having a competent and safe workplace and workforce.

Please note, this article is for information only. For full further information and guidelines, please refer to the “Code of Practice for Working in Confined Spaces” which can be found on www.hsa.ie

 

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