Each year several people are killed as a result of working in a confined space and even more get seriously injured. The fatalities are not just limited to those working in the confined space but also the emergency rescue working that attempt to rescue trapped workers. The majority of these accidents are caused by personnel that doesn’t have adequate confined space training, rescue equipment, health and safety precautions or risk assessments in place.
The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 requires employers and those who are self-employed to conduct risk assessments for all work activities to determine what safety measures need to be in place before such work takes place. For work in confined spaces, this means the identification of hazards and what precautions to take to minimize the risks.
The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 are in place for purpose of protecting employees from risks to their health when working in confined spaces. The regulations contain the following guidelines –
‘Avoid entry to confined spaces, e.g. by doing the work from the outside; If entry to a confined space is unavoidable, follow a safe system of work; and put in place adequate emergency arrangements before the work commences.’
These regulations also state that
Every employer shall:
- Ensure compliance with the provisions of these Regulations in respect of any work carried out by his employees; and
- Ensure compliance, so far as is reasonably practicable, with the provisions of these Regulations in respect of any work carried out by persons other than his employees insofar as the provisions relating to matters which are within his control.
Every self-employed person shall—
- Comply with the provisions of these Regulations in respect of his own work; and
- Ensure compliance, so far as is reasonably practicable, with the provisions of these Regulations in respect of any work carried out by other persons insofar as the provisions relating to matters which are within his control.
What Is Considered as A Confined Space?
A confined space isn’t actually defined by its physical dimensions but the hazards that might arise in the area. Therefore, confined spaces include ducts, vessels, culverts, tunnels, boreholes, manholes, excavations, sumps, inspection pits, and experimental hutches or any other space which is enclosed and there is a reasonable risk of:
- Serious injury from fire or explosion.
- Loss of consciousness arising from increased body temperature.
- Loss of consciousness or asphyxiation arising from gas, fume, vapor or lack of oxygen.
- Drowning arising from increased levels of liquid.
- The asphyxiation of any person at work arising from a free-flowing solid or the inability to reach a respirable environment due to entrapment by a free-flowing solid
How to Manage Working in A Confined Space
Employees should avoid working in confined spaces unless it is absolutely essential to do so. If the work within a confined space is unavoidable then you need to make sure that you are aware of the risks that may occur with doing so. You also need to make sure that you are capable of carrying out the work, know how to use any emergency equipment and have completed confined space training. Any confined space work should have the following:
- Someone in charge of the job who can ensure safe systems of work is adhered to.
- Someone who has the appropriate confined space training and experience.
- A check must be made to ensure isolation of all flows, pipelines mechanical and electrical equipment is effective.
- The access to the confined space must be big enough to allow workers wearing all the necessary equipment to enter and exit the confined space easily and provide ready access in case of an emergency.
- Testing for toxic and flammable gas should be carried out before and whilst in the confined space. Remember to use a gas monitor with appropriate sensors and a fitted oxygen sensor.
- Non-sparking tools and specially protected lighting may be required. Use low voltage tools if working in metal tanks.
- Breath apparatus is essential if the air inside the confined space cannot be made fit to breathe because of present gases, fumes or vapors or lack of oxygen.
Emergency Rescue Arrangements
Before working in a confined space takes place there should be arrangements in place should an emergency situation occur. Important consideration should be given to the following areas:
- What is the emergency rescue and recovery of casualties’arrangements if things go wrong?
- How will an alarm be raised in an emergency situation?
- Is there an effective means of communication between those inside the confined space and those outside of it?
Any team who are on standby in the event of an emergency must be fully trained.
Permit to Work in Confined Spaces
Permits to work are in place to ensure that a formal check is undertaken to ensure there is a safe system of work in place. If working in a confined space is rare for your company then you may need a permit to work.