This content is available as an accredited and certified online confined space training course.
As you’ll already be aware, confined spaces can be very hazardous places to work in. Hazardous gases in confined spaces can be especially dangerous, due to the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere.
This article will give you an overview of confined spaces with respect to…
- What the term refers to;
- The hazards confined spaces pose;
- How to eliminate risks associated with confined spaces
- What is expected from any worker before they can work in a confined space.
It will also teach you how to be safe if you ever have to work in confined spaces.
1. Correct CSE procedures and their importance.
2. The consequences of not following correct procedures
3. The hazards associated with confined space work
4. The requirements for workers in confined spaces
Why is a Confined Space course so Important?
Confined space courses are an essential part of your work as a construction employee. This is because on-site work often requires work to be carried out in confined spaces.
But, confined spaces are very dangerous work areas. They pose very serious risks to the health and safety of workers, and they have, in the past, been the cause of great harm, and even death.
When you have a clear understanding of the risks dangers can be avoided, or approached in the right way using equipment and procedures that minimise risk.
There are four categories of risk treatment:
We discuss these in detail later.
First, let’s begin with the legal background.
The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) means that, while it should always be a moral obligation to follow health and safety procedures at work, it is also a legal requirement. Both employers and employees are required to uphold certain duties in the workplace with regard to keeping themselves and others safe on site. The law is there to stop you getting hurt at work and to stop you getting ill because of work.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires organisations to provide information, instruction, training and supervision as necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of its employees. The Act requires that all workers have a right to work in places that are safe, that your employer must keep you safe at work and that you also have an obligation to your safety and the safety of those around you. In the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992, Regulation 12, Section (3) states that, “so far as is reasonably practicable, every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstructions and from any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall”.
What are confined spaces?
A confined space refers to any enclosed place which creates a greater likelihood of an accident, harm or injury. The term confined space includes any vessel, tank, container, pit, bund, chamber, cellar or any other similar space which is enclosed and poses risks due to the presence or reasonable foreseeable presence of the following: flammable or explosive atmospheres harmful gas, fumes or vapour free flowing solid or an increasing level of liquid excess of oxygen excessively high temperatures and/or the lack or reasonably foreseeable lack of oxygen.
Taking responsibility for the correct safety measures, and implementing them thoroughly, could mean the difference between life and death.
The correct signage must always be in place in order to alert all workers on site of every hazard associated with the space. This will help to ensure that accidents are avoided, and that the correct safety measures are implemented.
Why Do People Die In Confined Spaces?
There are a number of reasons why working in confined spaces poses the risk of death. For the most part it is down to error or lack of judgement.
Examples include: workers not recognising the space as dangerous, not trusting their senses, underestimating the dangers of the space, not staying on guard, or because they are attempting to conduct a rescue without the appropriate training.
This is why it is so important to be aware of and alert to the dangers associated with confined spaces. Knowing how to work safely and in the correct manner could save a life.
In March 2009, for example, a worker suffocated while using a petrol-driven power hose in a confined space, and in August 2009, two people were overcome by carbon dioxide while working in a confined space.
Incidents associated with confined spaces have, in the past, involved multiple fatalities, and human behaviour is a major contributing factor.
In the aforementioned incidents, measures for safety may have been incorrectly carried out, misjudged, or misunderstood.
Oxygen Deficiency and Confined Space
The balance of oxygen in the atmosphere is essential when working in confined spaces – both too much and too little oxygen can pose enormous risk to health. Oxygen levels can become deficient due to the following: Oxidising surfaces such as rust; rotting substances; combustion, for example, hot work; dilution with an inert gas such as Nitrogen or CO2; absorption by grains, chemical or soils; and by physical activity such as breathing.
When it comes to oxygen levels, the normal volume of oxygen or O2 in air is around 21%. The very minimum level that is still deemed safe is 19.5% and the maximum level is 23.5%. Anywhere above 23.5% is oxygen enriched atmosphere and will accelerate any burning, spark, heat, or hot work activity.
Some gases are heavier than air, for example, Argon used on the F14 project. Because it is heavier that air, the gas will pool at the bottom of a vessel such as a tank, excavation or trench. The use of a dehumidifier in an enclosed space will take all the moisture out and can create an oxygen depleted atmosphere.
The common expectation is that the gas meter will give you an “all clear”. But, typical gas meters will only monitor for 3 – 4 gases, for example, Carbon Monoxide, Hydrogen Sulphide, Oxygen, Methane, Explosive gases and or combustible organic vapours. It will depend on the meter configuration, which is why, in some cases, you may need specialist monitoring equipment. Often, it is too much of a risk to rely on a typical gas meter alone.
Atmospheric testing in confined spaces is essential, and must always be checked. Monitoring the air remotely inside a confined space is required prior to entry. But the atmosphere must be monitored at all levels. This is because a good level of oxygen at the opening of the space doesn’t necessarily mean it will be safe all the way to the bottom. Always test the air at various levels to be sure that the entire space is safe. If the testing has not been carried out – do not enter the space.
The reason people are killed in a confined space is often due to negligence or misjudgement of the hazards created by the space. This is why it is important to know how to stay safe.
Remember that either too much or too little oxygen can increase the risk. Too much oxygen can create a highly flammable atmosphere, and too little oxygen can make breathing difficult, as well as restricting your ability to coordinate at a safe level.
Always test the atmosphere correctly and remember that you may need to use specialist equipment in addition to a typical gas meter. Never enter a confined space before testing the atmosphere at EVERY level. Only when every level has been recorded as safe can you enter the space.
Examples Of A Confined Space Entry Flow-Chart
The entry flow-chart should be used to assess whether or not entry can be avoided, and if not, the measures which should be in place before entry takes place.
The chart asks whether or not works can be carried out without entry. If they can, a normal risk assessment is sufficient, and if working circumstances do not change, the job can be completed.
However, if entry is unavoidable, the chart indicates what must be done. First, identify and evaluate the hazards, determine the control measures and emergency arrangements. You must also complete the very specific CSE Risk Assessment which is required for any proposed entries on the project.
Once this is done, you can proceed with the entry, but conditions must be re-assessed for risk periodically. In order to enter and work in any confined space, a special permit is required.
The permit must:
- be completed for ALL confined space entries;
- include hazard identification and atmosphere testing information;
- detail the specific PPE required;
- be posted at the entry point;
- and, it must be opened and closed.
Confined Space Entry Controls
Certain controls must be in place and adhered to when entering a confined space. They include:
- Confined Space Entry Permit issued by site management.
- Appropriate Risk Assessment and Method Statements.
- A CSE Emergency and Rescue Plan must be documented as part of the risk assessment.
- No personnel committed to a confined space entry unless there is a rescue plan in place.
- Rescue Plan must be Non Entry Rescue and the standby person / persons must be capable of effecting non entry rescue.
- Confined space tasks must not depend on emergency services for rescue. It will take too long for ERT to get to the site for rescue, usually over 10 Minutes every time. Vertical rescues are limited, and rescues often require both vertical and horizontal measures.
- The Stand-by Person must not enter the confined space.
- Personnel working in the space must be attached to a Life Line. Always consider vertical vs. horizontal rescue issues and the use of Rescue BA sets.
- If Non Entry Rescue is not possible a standby rescue team (with BA sets) must be at the entry site.
- Required training requires a 2 day CSE & Medical Assessment. The Stand-by Person must be CSE and/or MA & First Aid or CPR trained, and this training must be no longer than 3 years old.
Confined Space Supervisor Responsibilities
All crew working in or around confined spaces hold essential responsibilities in the smooth running and safety of the works being completed.
Those held by supervisors include:
- To assure adequate protection is provided to the entrants by verifying adequate lockout / tagout, and to ensure that all hazards are securely isolated;
- To support the attendant’s authority in controlling access to a confined space;
- To verify that all personnel have exited prior to closing the space;
- To assure that all personnel involved are aware of the hazards associated with the space, and finally;
- To assure that a rescue plan and rescue services are available prior to entry.
Confined Space Entrant Responsibilities
As well as the supervision of the tasks taking place in confined spaces, the entrant also holds certain responsibilities towards safety.
- To assure that the space has been adequately ventilated, isolated, emptied, or otherwise made safe for entry;
- To immediately exit a space, without question, upon word of the attendant, no matter what the reason;
- To follow all safety rules and procedures that apply to the job;
- To be familiar with the work to be performed and the procedures that apply to the job;
- To use the appropriate PPE whenever necessary. And, to remain attached to the lifeline at all times while in the confined space.
Confined Space Observer Responsibilities
Every time a worker needs to enter a confined space, they must have an accompanying observer.
The observer’s responsibilities are as follows:
- They must monitor the activities both in and around the confined space.;
- They must be 100% dedicated to the confined space job, and unrelated activities must never be a distraction;
- The observer must be first aid or CPR, and confined space trained;
- They must maintain communications with confined space entrants, either through talking to them, using a radio or a life line;
- Observers must also initiate search and rescue procedures when necessary from outside the confined space;
- They must follow the rescue protocol required by the entry permit and the site emergency rescue procedures as soon as it is determined that emergency exit from the space is necessary.
Look See Act Remember the three steps:
Look, See, Act. If it looks like a confined space, and you think it may be a confined space, then it is a confined space. If you have any doubts or concerns contact EHS. Do not get complacent with confined space entry measures.
Remember: You cannot see or smell inert gas or oxygen depletion. When affected by inhalation of certain gasses, or air with too little oxygen, you will lose consciousness, and you won’t know anything about it. This will happen within a few steps after the exposure. These are real and serious risks, so always consider your safety and that of others as priority.
Here are some examples of what confined spaces may look like. They include: storage tanks, duct work, manholes, open ditches or excavations, trenches, roof spaces, and pumping stations.
Examples Of Confined Space Equipment
Remember to familiarise yourself with confined space equipment. For example: CSE harnesses, tripods, retractable lanyards, walkie-talkies, air monitors, and rescue sets. This equipment is specially designed for the highest measures of safety, Equipment should never be used if damaged or faulty. So, always ensure that the appropriate equipment is used, and is in good working order.
There are many hazards and safety issues related to working in confined spaces.
Hazards such as dangerous fumes, flammable gasses, lack of or too much oxygen and so on, can all be fatal. Because the risks are so serious, it is essential that all workers are aware of the dangers involved.
Knowing them is the first step in preventing and staying alert to them. Confined spaces should always be clearly marked, with all hazards assessed and all workers made aware of them. If entry into a confined space cannot be avoided, certain procedures and responsibilities are required.
You must never enter a confined space without a permit, the specific PPE and equipment required and an observer. A CSE risk assessment must be completed before a worker can enter the space, and the observer must stay in constant communication with the entrant while the works are being completed.
Rescue procedures should always be considered, and the observer must be trained in the rescue protocol and CPR or first aid. Never misjudge or underestimate the dangers associated with confined spaces – people have lost their lives because of this. Remember – your awareness and implementation of the correct safety measures will save lives – never neglect your responsibility to your own safety, and that of others.