People operating in the construction or utilities industries might well find themselves working in confined spaces at some point during their careers.
The stark reality is that on average 15 people are killed every year in the UK when working in confined spaces, while others are seriously hurt. Sadly, these casualties also include those who try to rescue trapped colleagues without the right training and equipment.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines these as areas which are either fully or largely enclosed, and which pose some particular risks.
While such spaces are often small in size, that’s not always so. For instance, a grain storage silo with a capacity of hundreds of cubic metres could still be a confined space. Other examples include tunnels, sewers, trenches, manholes, excavations, chambers, tanks, pits, ducts, boreholes, cellars and unventilated rooms.
Entrances and exits will be limited; equally, these spaces are not intended to be occupied continuously.
Confined areas can be unsafe because of the unique dangers involved. Possible risks include reduced oxygen, explosions, fire and noxious fumes. Other hazards include flooding or drowning due to a rise in levels of liquid, asphyxiation from gas, fumes or a lack of air, or a loss of consciousness caused by a rise in body temperature.
That’s not all. Poor visibility, extreme temperatures, electrical shock, falling objects, loose materials, possible slip-and-trip falls, noise and the fact that movement can be restricted, also make for an often-dangerous environment. Finally, structural support may not be adequate.
And the risks are not just down to the space itself. Problems can arise from the work being done, from spray painting and grinding to welding and cutting.
No one should be working in a restricted space unless they absolutely have to. But sometimes doing so will be unavoidable. In such cases, the HSE states you first need a thorough risk assessment of the possible dangers and how you will control them. How will dangerous fumes be removed or ventilated, for example? If gases or liquids flood a space, how can valves be locked closed? If there isn’t enough oxygen, you’ll need breathing apparatus or to ventilate the space first. Emergency procedures must be in place and activated if necessary. You’ll also need a supervisor on site to ensure the right safety procedures are consistently followed.
Additionally, staff should have the right build for the work, not be at particular risk of claustrophobia, and be fit to use breathing apparatus.
Other key steps in preparation include isolating electrical equipment, checking the size of the entrance, testing the atmosphere for gas and providing special tools and lighting as well as breathing equipment. (This list isn’t exhaustive.)
Equally, workers must be competent and trained in the work and use of emergency equipment, the HSE stresses. And you’ll need to meet the requirements of the Confined Space Regulations 1997.
Finally, a permit-to-work system will allow for the safe completion of work with no risk, or at least an acceptable risk, to human life.
Above all, it’s simply not enough to rely on the emergency services to assist if something goes wrong.
With the right confined spaces training, workers stay competent, with the knowledge to appreciate and identify all potential risks and how to protect themselves against them, write risk assessments, implement safety controls and so on.
Proper instruction also shows trainees how to set up and monitor a confined area and how to deal with any emergencies. Additionally, it makes workers aware of their responsibilities and the right procedures to follow. Equally, they will understand when a place is too dangerous to enter at all, and when they may need to evacuate a space.
Indeed, training is the only way of making a potentially highly dangerous space as safe as it can be for all concerned, and it’s no exaggeration to say it can make the difference between life and death.
At Pragmatic Consulting, we provide tailored, high-quality courses for the construction and utilities sectors UK-wide, including confined space training. Our training includes:
If you require confined spaces training not listed above, please contact us to arrange this.
Browse our courses and get in touch today for an informal quote and to learn more about what we could do for your organisation.
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