Confined Spaces – Fully Enclosed, Partially Enclosed and Restricted Access!??

What  is it, and what the hell is fully enclosed, partially enclosed or restricted access – and what’s the difference anyway!? 

Does it even matter?

In the eyes of the Confined Space regulations,


Defining “What is a confined space?” can have serious implications for a task, it’s safety and the cost of supporting an entry into a “confined space”. So getting it right is essential.

This flow chart may just help!

First – answer this question.

Is it fully or partially enclosed? 

Fully Enclosed

Completely covered with a roof and walls which extend from ground to roof, effectively a ‘sealed’ space.

Little or no ventilation, limited entry or exit points

Partially Enclosed

Enclosed on 2 or more sides, with or without a roof, sufficient to prevent a gas or liquid to easily flow out of the space.

May have some ventilation or have an open side, top or bottom – but gas or liquid could still collect in the space.

Restricted Access

This may not be “confined”, but one more entrances or openings inside the space may be small or complex for a person to pass through easily.

Some confined spaces in recent years seem to be defined by some industries as “restricted access”, seemingly, in order to avoid the additional control measures* required when declaring a “confined space” or because the definition is not thoroughly understood.

*“Control measures” which are there for everyone’s safety and if necessary, are a help rather than a hinderance.


Some confined spaces demand a rescue team.

Dependent on the risk assessment, a “restricted access” may not be a confined space, however, it’s small access or complex nature may demand a rescue team be in place anyway.

“What is a confined space?”

Well a “confined space” isn’t what everyone may think…

They don’t have to be small – they can be massive [think as big as a ships hold!], they can even be open like a building site trench, and you may not even be doing any task in the space.

The regulations try to clarify “Confined spaces” must be fully or partially enclosed, entrances can be at the top, the side or even from the bottom, and they may be above or below ground.


Consider the gases that could be inside the space…

Are the gases lighter or heavier than air?

Are the team being lowered down in to, or climbing up into the deadly hazard?

You wouldn’t climb into a big bath of water and expect to be able to breathe…