Identifying Confined Space Hazards

In addition to the normal duty of care imposed by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 cover work in confined spaces. The Regulations define a confined space as any chamber, tank, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue or other similar space that are mostly enclosed, although some are not entirely enclosed (e.g. trenches, which are open at the top).

Confined spaces can pose significant risks for all those who enter them. Consequently, employers have a strict legal duty to ensure the safety of all those who enter a confined space.

The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 require employers to:

  • Prohibit entry and work in confined spaces, unless it is not reasonably practicable for the work to be carried out from outside of the space, or if the work cannot be avoided.
  • Ensure that the safe system of work controls “reasonably foreseeable risks”; this includes:
    – injury from fire or explosion;
    – loss of consciousness arising from excessive heat, gas, fume, vapour, or lack of oxygen
    – drowning arising from an increase in the level of a liquid
    – asphyxiation, as a result of a free-flowing solid
    – entrapment preventing access to a respirable environment.
  • Ensure that, in the event of an emergency, suitable and sufficient arrangements are in place for the rescue of persons working in a confined space (these arrangements must include measures to control the risks to those putting the rescue operation into place and the means to effect resuscitation, where necessary).

confined-space-case-setudyIdentifying Confined Space Hazards
In any confined space there are a range and combination of potential hazards that a worker could be exposed to, which can include:

  • Restricted movement, leading to trapping or the inability to get out of danger quickly.
  • The surface the worker is walking on being:
    – a fragile crust that could break causing the worker to fall into the contents below
    – slippery, causing the worker to slip or fall
    – poorly lit, causing the worker to trip
  • A lack of oxygen caused by:
    -inadequate ventilation
    – reaction of cleaning or degreasing chemicals
    – the presence of oxygen depleting gases
  • • Fire and/or explosion caused by the build-up of flammable gases, vapours or excess oxygen by solvents, adhesives or dusts in high concentrations.
  • Biological hazards from:
    – decaying human or animal waste products
    – rats carrying Leptospirosis (Weils Disease)
    – insects
  • Extremes of temperature leading to a dangerous increase or decrease in body temperature (hyperthermia or hypothermia).
  • Liquids or free-flowing solids suddenly filling the space and trapping or asphyxiating the worker
  • Poisonous gases, fumes or vapours entering, or created in, the confined space from:
    – residues in tanks and vessels
    – a build-up in sewers
    – connecting pipes
    – leaks in walls or pipes
    – the by-products of welding, soldering and brazing processes and from chemical reactions of cleaning materials
    – the decomposition of the contents or contaminants introduced by the work
  • Inadequate isolation of supplies and moving equipment.
  • Hazards introduced by the use of unsuitable tools and machinery required for the work.
  • Psychological and physiological effects of working in a confined space.

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