Entering and Working in Confined Spaces
Many industries involve workers entering confined spaces in order to carry out work. This type of working environment can be very dangerous for a number of reasons and there are many important health and safety considerations that need to be made when working in a confined space.
What is a Confined Space?
A confined space can be any environment that is of a confined nature, where there is a risk of serious injury or death. The risk can be from hazardous substances or dangerous conditions, such as a lack of oxygen. Confined spaces can include silos, storage tanks, enclosed drains, reaction vessels or sewers. They can also include ship holds, sub cellars, cold storage, manholes, wells, and tunnels. Some spaces that are not usually confined spaces can become confined during their construction or modification. Confined spaces are not designed or intended for humans to occupy them, which makes them very dangerous. Also, they usually have a restricted entrance, because of its location or size.
What are the Dangers of Working in Confined Spaces?
Did you know that working in confined spaces kills, on average, 15 people every year in the UK across a range of industries? Also, many more people are seriously injured by working within a confined space. Those who are killed are not only the workers in the confined space, but those who attempt to rescue them without the proper health and safety training and equipment. So why is working in a confined space so dangerous?
One of the reasons is because the space can be quickly filled with a poisonous vapour, fume or gas which will make it impossible for the workers inside to breathe. Also, sometimes the confined space can be at risk of suddenly being filled with liquids or solids, suffocating the workers and preventing their exit.
Another danger of working in confined spaces is fire and explosions, as well as noxious residues that are left behind in the confined space which can give off a fume, gas or a vapour. Temperature can also be a risk, as working in confined spaces can become very hot. There also might be a risk of moving equipment parts within the confined space, as well as entanglement or structural hazards.
If uncontrolled energy is present within the confined space, the worker inside might also be at risk of electrical shock. These are just a few of the major risks that are associated with working in a confined space, some of which can have very serious consequences.
How to Avoid These Risks?The best way to avoid danger from confined spaces is to avoid working within them as much as possible. However, sometimes it is not possible to avoid carrying out tasks in confined spaces. If this is the case, it is very important that the supervisor or manager perform a risk assessment in order to determine how to make the work process as safe as possible. Here are some of the very important safety steps that you should take before working in confined spaces:
- Always make sure that the worker who is operating in the confined space has the appropriate confined space training and is competent enough to perform the job.
- If a confined space is at risk of having noxious fumes within it, it is crucial to make sure that these fumes are removed or ventilated before workers enter the space.
- Identify whether there is a risk of liquids and gases flooding into the space. If so, it is important to establish whether or not the valves distributing these gases or liquids can be locked shut to protect the workers.
- If there is limited oxygen within the confined space, you must ensure that all workers wear the appropriate breathing equipment or ventilate the space so that the oxygen levels are increased before the workers enter.
- It is also important to have a system of communication, so that you will know whether or not workers are okay or if they have been overcome by fumes.
- Also, employers must have a strategy in place for a rescue, in case they need to extract a worker who has been overcome by the fumes within a confined space.
- Don’t assume that because a confined space is safe one day, it always will be. Always assess the confined space every day before sending workers in.
Have an Emergency Plan
Whenever you have workers carrying out tasks in confined spaces, it is essential to have an emergency plan to rescue them if something goes wrong. If there is a hazardous condition and the worker is not able to leave the confined space, the rescue effort must be set into motion immediately. This rescue plan should be detailed in the company health and safety policy regarding working in confined spaces.
The rescue procedure should be practiced on a regular basis, so that it can be performed very effectively. The worker within the confined space should have an alarm that allows them to call for help when they need it. Also, rescue equipment such as lifting equipment, safety harnesses and other tools must be immediately available and a rescue team should be trained in the correct use of it.
Also, all rescuers must have a basic first aid certificate and must be able to perform CPR. It is absolutely essential that no other worker enter the confined space to rescue the victim, unless they are fully trained and are wearing personal protective equipment. One of the most unfortunate statistics is that more than 60% of the deaths related to confined spaces happen when an untrained and unequipped rescuer attempts to save someone from a confined space.