Confined Spaces: What Are The Right Precautions?

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Operating within a confined space environment can pose many safety risks for a worker, however the use of the correct precautions can ensure these risks are minimized.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a confined space as “‘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).” Examples of these spaces could be mines, cellars, silos, sewers, drains, tanks, water towers, manholes, vats and access shafts, although any area that has limited entry points can be classified as a confined area.

The various confined space hazards that pose a risk to your workers include toxic gases, oxygen deficiency, oxygen enrichment, flammable atmosphere, excessive heat and flowing liquids. Each of these threats can be monitored, allowing you to ensure the safety of any persons in the area during the operation.

There are a number legal requirements regarding the entry of a worker in a confined space, which can be found on the HSE website. These requirements state that:

  • Confined space work must only be carried out if absolutely necessary.
  • Risk assessments must be carried out prior to the work commencing.
  • A system of work must be in place to ensure safety.
  • All workers entering the space must be provided with appropriate training, equipment and instructions for safe working.

Once you have established that the work absolutely needs to be carried out, the first stage of operating safely within an enclosed space is to assess the area and confirm the risks that are present. This includes checking what hazardous gases may be present, whether there is the possibility of oxygen deficiency, whether there are any flammable substances and whether the structure is secure. It is also required for employers to check whether there are hazards outside of the space which could also pose a risk to the worker.

Other factors should be taken into consideration during the risk assessment, such as lighting, communication methods and additional equipment needed for the task at hand (for example bulky welding tools). These will all have an effect on the operation, and should be assessed to ensure safety for the workers.

Once a thorough risk assessment has taken place, the correct training and equipment must be supplied to any workers entering the area. This includes training workers on an emergency escape plan prior to entry. All workers must be equipped with the correct gas monitors, body protection, fall arrest and breathing devices, depending on the area they are entering. Training of any required equipment must be supplied to the worker, ensuring they have full knowledge of how to operate any devices needed.

Confined space kits will often require the use of tripods and fall arrest equipment to allow safe entry and working within an area that is difficult to access. Fall protection gear may only be required for confined space access, or it may be needed throughout the entire operation should the area pose a risk of height safety to the worker. Equipment such as safety harnesses, lifelines and lanyards may be needed to ensure the safety of your users, but this should be identified during the initial risk assessment and full training on the correct use of all products must be provided.

Should the risk of any toxic gases or unsafe oxygen levels be present, gas detectors must be supplied to all workers within the area. Again, your employees will need full training on how to use each device and these must be worn continually throughout the whole operation.

It is also important to note that stretchers should be readily available for an emergency evacuation operation, should a worker be injured within the area. A stretcher is designed for use in a confined space rescue scenario, allowing you to remove a fallen worker from a hazardous environment quickly and easily.

Providing your employees with confined space training can ensure that all necessary information is given, reducing the risk of any mishaps during the operation. At Rockall Safety, we have a range of training courses available which can be found here.

Our full range of confined space equipment can be found here. If you need more information or you have any enquiries, please contact us on 0845 3300 447 or email our team at info@rockallsafety.co.uk.

Posted by Laura Dronfield

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