Working within a confined space environment poses major risks to workers, but following the correct safety procedures can minimize most threats.
A confined space is a place which is substantially enclosed (though not always entirely), and where serious injury can occur from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby (e.g. lack of oxygen).
The first step is to determine whether the work area is to be considered a confined space. A confined space hazard assessment should be carried out, and careful consideration should be made regarding whether it is absolutely necessary for workers to enter the area.
The air within the space needs to be tested from outside prior to any workers entering the area, with continuous monitoring taking place throughout all activity via use of a gas detector. This initial test should be carried out using remote probes and sampling lines, to check that the oxygen content is within safe limits, no hazardous atmospheres are present and that any ventilation equipment is working correctly.
This assessment should consider the proposed work activities, the number of people occupying the space and the security of the structure. A trained worker must conduct a series of tests on the atmosphere, which needs to be recorded.
Once the confined space has been identified correctly, a safe system of working must be followed to ensure the safety of all workers. This involves putting emergency arrangements into place prior to the start of any entry, and ensuring all workers have the correct equipment.
All employees working in confined space environments must be fitted with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). After assessing the area, the correct pieces of equipment must be supplied:
Head, Hand & Foot Protection
Helmets, gloves and correct footwear are important for ensuring the safety and comfort of a worker in a confined space environment. The correct equipment must be chosen depending on the results of the hazard assessment.
Eye & Hearing Protection
An employer must supply googles/visors and ear muffs/plugs should the confined space environment pose a risk to the worker’s sight or hearing.
Waterproof & Thermal Clothing
Many confined spaces will pose a risk of water or temperature exposure, so correct clothing must be selected to prevent any health issues for the worker.
Respirators & Breathing Apparatus
Should the atmosphere be unstable, appropriate safety equipment such as self-contained breathing apparatus must be supplied to the user. This will ensure that the wearer has a safe supply of breathing air throughout the operation.
Appropriate Safety Harnesses
Harnesses are an excellent addition to your confined space equipment, but these must be properly tested before use and full training must be provided to all workers.
Confined space workers must always be monitored from outside by a person trained to react in emergency situations. This person needs to be able to observe the employees within the area from a safe vantage point and be able to raise an alarm if necessary. Therefore, a reliable form of communication needs to be available, to ensure any potential hazards or man-down situations are alerted immediately.
There are many methods for this, including mobile phones, two-way radios and closed-circuit television. Hard line communication systems are a reliable system for areas where phone signals are unobtainable, often offering a hands-free system.
Rescuers must always be prepared to attend an emergency and need to be correctly trained to use all rescue equipment. Workers within the confined space should be supplied with self-rescue equipment for any situations where the user can react to an emergency themselves.
There are many variables to confined space working which determines what equipment and precautions are needed, but a correct assessment of the environment can ensure that your workers are prepared for the task at hand.
Take a look through the Rockall Safety Confined Space category to find all of our rescue and entry gear, or check out the gas detectors, breathing apparatus and fall arrest categories which can also ensure the safety of your workers.