Many people can encounter work in confined spaces – from servicing pumps at petrol stations to performing maintenance on grain silos. Being able to correctly identify a space as “confined” is the first and most important first step in working safely.
Interestingly, confined spaces are not strictly defined by their size – in fact, not all confined spaces are small. They can also be enclosed or partially enclosed, above or below ground.
“What matters are the hazards that exist, and the work that people are doing,” explains Michael Forrest, Trainer and Assessor, Coates Hire Training Services. “These factors can quickly turn an innocent looking trench into a confined space with a toxic atmosphere.”
Spot the hazards
Three major hazards encountered in confined spaces include:
Because so many environments are considered confined spaces, there are also many scenarios that could lead to engulfment (in other words, being plunged into or immersed by something). Some common examples include grain or cattle feed engulfing workers inside a silo, or water flooding into a storm drain – both of which present a considerable risk to someone working in that environment.
2. Hazardous atmospheres
Poor ventilation can allow hazardous atmospheres to quickly develop, causing loss of consciousness, impairment, injury or death.
Competency and training
According to Fire and Safety Australia, 92% of Western Australia’s confined space fatalities in the last 15 years were due to inadequate training, and over 90% of these fatalities cited a lack of supervisor knowledge and supervision as the secondary cause – making training a critical factor in keeping people safe.
To work in these environments a unit of competency for entering and working in confined spaces is required. Additional training modules are available for performing rescues and supervising work in confined spaces. Much like competency for working at height, retraining is not required by law, but it is recommended at 1-2 yearly intervals to ensure safe practices and to stay abreast of any changes in legislation.
“Most importantly, if you’re unsure about the nature or safety of your workspace, always stop work and seek further guidance – never proceed until you feel safe,” says Michael.
Is confined space safety a concern for your business? How do you overcome the challenges to keep people safe? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn.