Working in confined spaces can be deadly. Here we uncover two lesser-known factors that can make working in these environments even more hazardous.
One of the greatest dangers of working in confined spaces is failing to acknowledge that the space you are working in is confined, explains Michael Forrest, Trainer and Assessor at Coates Hire Training Services. “If we can’t, or simply don’t recognise our work environments as confined spaces we are less likely to adhere to safety practices, less likely to use necessary safety equipment, and ultimately less capable of working safely,” says Michael.
What inhibits our ability to identify confined spaces?
Confined spaces are not strictly defined by their size – they can be enclosed or partially enclosed, above or below ground. Confined spaces are not always immediately obvious to the untrained eye, so it’s vitally important that we know what to look for. Coates Hire offers confined space training to help workers, managers and supervisors to correctly identify these hazardous work environments and work safely in them.
Inadequate risk assessments are another factor in confined space fatalities – because if we’re not actively looking for confined space hazards, we might not spot them until it’s too late.
Some misconceptions also exist around the dangers of confined spaces. “Working in a trench alongside a road may not seem particularly hazardous or ‘confined’ as it’s surrounded by open air,” says Michael. “But as soon as you put a piece of equipment in that trench, like a petrol driven compactor, that seemingly open space can very quickly fill up with carbon monoxide.”
High-risk work environments can add to the cost, complexity and time it takes to complete a task or deliver a project. “Working safely in confined spaces requires training to be completed, and additional precautions to be taken to minimise risk,” says Michael. “Unfortunately there are some businesses that are reluctant to take these extra steps and turn a blind eye to confined spaces instead.”
Did you know that 60% of confined space workplace fatalities involve contractors? It’s common for contractors to be brought in for hazardous tasks, but safety can quickly be compromised if contractors are not familiar with the required safety procedures and practices. Contractors may also be less likely to identify a confined space, or report concerns in fear of losing a contract.
Performing rescues in confined spaces can be even more hazardous than simply working in these environments. Internationally, 60% of all confined space fatalities occur during rescue attempts – in other words for every person that dies in a confined space, two people will die trying to rescue them.
Why is this statistic is so alarmingly high?
The emotions of people responding to confined space incidents can be a major factor in confined space fatalities. When instinct kicks in people can make poor choices for their own safety and that of others. In finding a family member, or colleague in danger we don’t tend to stop and think or perform risk assessments – we act impulsively, often diving straight in to perform a rescue.
Inadequate rescue procedures also contribute to these statistics. In Australia only 15% of organisations that suffer a confined space fatality have ‘appropriate confined space procedures in place’. To make working in confined spaces and attempting rescues safer, strict controls and procedures must be put in place, regularly tested and communicated. Easy access to appropriate and well-fitting personal safety equipment – like two-way radios, rescue harnesses and helmets – must also be provided.
A lack of confined space rescue training is another factor in workplace fatalities – confined space rescues are complex and highly emotional events, requiring specific skills, experience and equipment to manage them safely.
Working in confined spaces is considerably more hazardous than many people may think, and these hidden hazards only exacerbate that risk. But by completing all necessary training and addressing additional safety measures we can significantly improve the safety outcomes for people working in these environments.
As managers, supervisors or employers, if your workforce is required to work in confined spaces be sure to refer to current Code of Practice to know your rights and legal requirements.
Learn more about working safely in confined spaces, or find your local Coates Hire branch.
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