By Joanna Weekes
If you have workers who carry out any of their work tasks for you in confined spaces, there is an increased level of risk that this causes. For example, a confined space may be low in oxygen, contain a toxic atmosphere or pose a potential engulfment or entrapment risk.
A confined space can be any enclosed structure that has limited access and may contain a potentially harmful atmosphere. Examples of confined spaces include tanks, pits, chimneys, silos, underground sewers, tunnels and wells (a mineshaft or the workings of a mine are not included in the definition of a confined space).
Always eliminate the need for working in a confined space if possible. Other hazards such as noise, chemicals, inadequate ventilation, heat, cold, etc. can pose much higher risks within confined spaces. Try to design your workplace so that maintenance and monitoring equipment is not situated in a confined space (this will minimise the need for entering a confined space).
If possible, it is always best to remove the need for a person to enter the confined space. But if this is not possible, control measures need to be put into place to minimise the risk to your workers.
Reducing the risk of working in confined spaces
Use the following tips to reduce the risk associated with working in confined spaces:
- Identify each confined space your workers need to carry out their work in.
- Use signage to identify the confined space as a restricted access area only.
- Identify each reasonably foreseeable hazard associated with working in the space.
- Engage a suitably qualified person to undertake a risk assessment before any work is carried out in a confined space for the first time – only a person who is able to identify hazards (such as oxygen deficiencies or the presence of toxic gas) is qualified to undertake a risk assessment.
- Regularly review the risk assessment, including before each entry into the confined space.
- Identify and document accountabilities and responsibilities of workers who work in confined spaces, e.g. the capacity to assign, control, delegate and review the confined space safety procedures, the issue and receipt of entry permits, standby and emergency response and training and competency assessment.
- Issue entry permits to workers (including contractors) who enter confined spaces. A permit lists the confined space that the worker is permitted to enter, and sets out the measures to control risk for that space. Ensure that no person enters or works in a confined space unless authorised by an entry permit issued by you.
- Ensure your workers use the personal protective equipment appropriate to the specific confined space, e.g. respiratory protection devices, harness/lifelines, eye protection, etc.
Ensure that appropriate emergency procedures are ready for immediate deployment whenever workers are within confined spaces.
- Make sure that you keep records of:
- The location of confined spaces;
- Training conducted;
- Risk assessments and risk control measures;
- Inspection, calibration and maintenance of confined space safety and rescue equipment;
- Inspections and audits of confined spaces; and
- Reports related to any incident associated with the confined space.
Any work performed in a confined space should be performed in accordance with the requirements of Safe Working in a Confined Space – Australian Standard AS2865-1995.
The Code of Practice, Confined Spaces, provides practical guidance for managing the risks of confined spaces and has a helpful flow chart to assist in identifying confined spaces.
And as usual, if you are ever in doubt of your ability to assess and manage the risks associated with confined spaces, engage a trained health and safety consultant.
Remember, all workers required to work in confined spaces must undergo training from a health and safety consultant about:
- Confined spaces;
- Risk assessment procedures;
- Risk management steps;
- Emergency procedures; and
- The selection, use, fitting and maintenance of safety equipment.