Every year people die as a result of work in confined spaces
On average 15 people are killed each year in the UK during work in confined spaces and even more are seriously injured. Fatalities are not just confined to those carrying out work in confined spaces, but also those who attempt to rescue trapped personnel without proper confined space training and rescue equipment.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees and others. This is further reinforced by the Confined Spaces Regulations (1997) which are in place to protect staff and others against risks to their health while working in a confined space.
Proper training helps employees remain competent and provides them with the knowledge to spot workplace risks, implement safety controls, write risk assessments and more.
What is classed as a confined space?
Confined spaces are not defined by the physical dimensions of a space but by the hazards that may arise in the space. Therefore, a confined space is defined as any place such as ducts, vessels, culverts, tunnels, boreholes, manholes, excavations, sumps, inspection pits, experimental hutches, tanks, building voids or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of:
- Serious injury arising from a fire, explosion or excess of oxygen
- Loss of consciousness arising from an increase in body temperature
- Loss of consciousness or asphyxiation arising from gas, fume, vapour or the lack of oxygen
- Drowning arising from an increase in the level of liquid
- Asphyxiation arising from a free flowing solid or the inability to reach a respirable environment due to entrapment by a free flowing solid
Under this definition, if an area is substantially enclosed and also presents a reasonably foreseeable risk of one or more of the specified risks, then it should be defined as a confined space.
What responsibility do I have as a business?
Every business has a duty of care to its employees to keep them safe while at work, and this is especially important when confined space working is required.
In the UK, the Confined Space Regulations (1997) is the legislation specifically developed for this type of work. The Regulations and Approved Code of Practice L101 (ACoP) must be considered before any attempt to enter a confined space and emphasise the importance of understanding the environment as well as providing staff with a practicable method of completing the work in a safe way.
Confined space risk assessments
The Confined Spaces Regulations (1997) apply when the risk assessment identifies a serious risk of injury. When this happens, the regulations advise workers check to see if the work can be done another way to avoid entry/work in a confined space.
If this is unavoidable, then the regulations advise taking several precautions, including:
- A supervisor to remain alert through each safety stage.
- The air may need testing to see if it is free from toxicity and flammable vapours. If the air isn’t fit to breathe then utilising breathing apparatus is essential.
- Do your workers have the relevant training or sufficient experience?
Key hazards associated with confined spaces
Employee injury, illness and death are real possibilities when working in confined spaces. That’s why proper training is so crucial to the safety of all workers. Some of the key hazards workers may face are:
- Poor visibility
- Substances entering through piping or other openings
- Moving parts of equipment and machinery
- Temperature extremes
- Electrical shock
- Restricted access and egress
- Risk of drowning
- Loose and unstable materials
- Slip, trip, and fall hazards
- Restricted movement
- Falling objects
This list is by no means exhaustive as the hazards are numerous for those who work in confined spaces.
How to manage work in confined spaces
Work in confined spaces should always be avoided unless it is essential to do so. However, if the work is unavoidable then those undertaking the work must ensure that they aware of the risks that may occur and that they are capable and trained in the work due to be carried out. Any emergency equipment must have also undergone appropriate confined space training.
Any confined space work should have:
- A Supervisor – Someone in charge of the job who can ensure safe systems of work are adhered to.
- Persons Suitable For The Work – Someone who has the appropriate confined space training, experience, build, minimal risk of claustrophobia, and fitness to wear breathing apparatus.
- Isolation – In all cases a check must be made to ensure isolation of all flows, pipelines mechanical and electrical equipment is effective.
- Check The Size Of The Entrance – 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 and egress in an emergency.
- Atmosphere Testing – 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.
- Provision of Special Tools and Lighting – Non-sparking tools and specially protected lighting may be required. Use low voltage tools if working in metal tanks.
- Provision Of Breathing Apparatus – Essential if the air inside the confined space cannot be made fit to breathe because of present gases, fumes or vapours or lack of oxygen.
This list is by no means comprehensive and should by no means take the place of any formal confined spaces training.
For more information about the importance of confined space training visit the Confined spaces section of the Health and Safety Executive website at www.hse.gov.uk/confinedspace/
Confined Spaces training with Develop Training
A wide range of solutions are available for businesses that must operate in confined spaces, including advice on the identification of confined spaces from industry experienced specialists, help and advice with developing safe systems of entry, developing training packages relevant to the confined space entry being planned, and advising on the selection, supply and use of all the necessary equipment.
Everyone should go home safe at the end of the day and this is why DTL offer a full range of comprehensive confined space training.
Click here to browse our full range of confined space training courses. Alternatively, you can give our friendly Customer Service team a call on 0800 876 6708. DTL also offer bespoke training programmes tailored to your organisations' specific requirements - simply give us a call to get the ball rolling today!