What 3 Things Make a Confined Space?
Confined spaces can be dangerous and require special safety precautions. It is important to understand what makes a confined space so that you can take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of those who are working in and around them. In this blog post, we will discuss the three main characteristics that make a space a confined space, as well as how to identify and work safely in these areas.
Definition of a Confined Space
The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 (SI 1997/1713) Regulation 1 “confined space” means any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well, or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk.
Confined spaces must be big enough to enter and work – if you can’t enter, how can you become trapped!
So to be defined as a “confined space”, it needs to be fully or partially enclosed AND have at least one of the 5 specified risks
Definition of a Specified Risk Regulation 1 states that a “specified risk” means a risk of:
1. Serious injury to any person at work arising from a fire or explosion.
2. The loss of consciousness of any person at work arising from an increase in body temperature.
3. The loss of consciousness or asphyxiation of any person at work arising from gas, fume, vapour or the lack of oxygen.
4. The drowning of any person at work arising from an increase in the level of a liquid.
5. The asphyxiation of any person at work arising from a free flowing solid or the inability to reach a respirable environment due to entrapment by a free flowing solid.
Hazards of Confined Spaces
The second characteristic of a confined space is the presence of potential hazards.
Flammable substances and Oxygen enrichment
Risk of fire or explosion from:
• Oxygen cylinders e.g. welding equipment
• Airborne flammable contaminates
• Leaks from adjoining plant not effectively isolated
Toxic Gas, Fume or Vapour
• Fumes from previous process or storage
• Build up in sewers, service hatches (man holes), contaminated ground
• Leak from behind vessel lining
• Welding, cutting, lead lining, brush and spray painting
• Molding using grip adhesives or solvents
• Products of combustion
• Hot work taking place outside the space
• Plant failure causing build-up
• Inert gas purging
• Natural occurring biological processes consuming oxygen
• Fermentation in sealed silos
• Leaving vessels closed for long periods
• Carbon dioxide produced when limestone chippings get wet
• Burning operations
• Displacement of air when pipe freezing
• Depletion of oxygen in poorly ventilated space
Ingress or presence of liquid
• Liquids can flow into and collect in low level confined spaces
• Can be corrosive, toxic or harmful Solid materials that can flow
• Can submerge a person
• Can trap a person
Presence of excessive heat
• Dangerous rise in body core temperature
• Incorrect use of PPE could raise body core temperature
• Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)
• Human hazards i.e. tripping, stumbling
• Too many people within a confined space
• Obstructions within a confined space
• Biological i.e. sewers, septic tanks
• Cross contamination of liquids and gases
• The general public
• Working at height
• Rats and other infestations
Safety Precautions for Working in Confined Spaces
The third characteristic of a confined space is the need for special safety precautions when working in them. This includes using personal and respiratory protective equipment (PPE & RPE) such as respirators, breathing apparatus and/or protective clothing; conducting air monitoring to ensure safe oxygen levels as well as only very low permitted levels of other gases – for example, such as methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide.
Providing ventilation systems to reduce hazardous vapors and cool down the temperature of the working environment and using lockout/tagout procedures to prevent accidental start-up of machinery are also a means of making the confined space safer.
Training employees on proper safety procedures for working in these areas and providing rescue equipment in case of an emergency is essential.
Safety precautions for working in confined spaces are crucial in order to minimise the risk of injury or death. When entering a confined space, it is important to use respiratory protective equipment and personal protective equipment such as respirators, breathing apparatus, gas monitors, intrinsically safe (flameproof) tools, non-static protective clothing, helmets, safety glasses, and gloves to protect oneself from hazardous elements present in the space.
Before entering the confined space, gas monitoring must be conducted to check for toxic gases, vapours, and ensure correct oxygen levels. If necessary, ventilation systems should be provided to reduce the concentration of hazardous vapours and also reduce the temperature inside the space.
In order to prevent accidental start-up of machinery, lockout/tagout procedures should be implemented through a robust risk assessment, method statement, safe systems of work and permit system. In the event of an emergency, rescue equipment must be readily available and employees must be trained on proper safety procedures for working in confined spaces.
When it comes to working safely in confined spaces, understanding what makes them unique is key. By understanding the definition of a confined space and identifying any potential hazards before entering one, you can ensure that you are taking all necessary steps to protect yourself and those around you from harm. Additionally, by following proper safety procedures when working in these areas you can help ensure everyone’s safety while completing your task efficiently and effectively.