Working safely in confined spaces
Fire Protection, Fire & Safety, Fire Training
Fire & Safety
Bylined – Tony Jones, Engineering, Training and Rescue Manager, Wormald
Working within confined spaces poses many risks to health and safety. Each year, many people are seriously injured or killed due to adverse conditions in confined spaces. Unfortunately rescue attempts carried out by personnel without correct equipment or appropriate training can also result in casualties.
Although it is not always possible to prevent these incidents, employers have a duty to minimise the health and safety risks associated with working in confined spaces.
Work health and safety laws set out the legal obligations that must be met by employers before work can commence in a confined space. The Australian Standard, AS 2865-2009 Confined Spaces provides a set of parameters which should be met, including training personnel working within confined spaces.
The value of training cannot be underestimated as working safely in confined spaces requires a unique set of skills and knowledge. If something goes wrong, knowing what to do and how to do it can be the difference between life and death. To fully understand and manage the risks, it is important for people to learn and be tested under real-life conditions and training can provide this.
In addition to training, there are many things to consider when preparing to work in confined spaces including entry permits, risk assessments and rescue procedures. Here I will look at what a confined space is, the importance of carrying out hazard and risk assessments and the significance of training.
What is a confined space?
A confined space is an enclosed or partially enclosed space which, according to Australian Standard 2865-2009 (AS 2685-2009) is not designed for human occupancy. Confined spaces may have an atmosphere with potentially harmful contaminants, an unsafe level of oxygen and may have restricted means of entry and exit.
A confined space could be a vat, tank, pit, pipe, duct, flue, oven, chimney, silo, container, pressure vessel, underground sewer, wet or dry well, shaft, trench, tunnel or other similar enclosed or partially enclosed structure. It is not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all confined spaces and some places can even become confined spaces during construction.
Work carried out in a confined space can include; performing industrial tasks such as removing waste, inspecting or installing plant or equipment, carrying out maintenance or repair work, reading meters, repairing or inspecting cables or rescuing people who are injured.
It is not uncommon for those working in confined spaces not to be aware that they are actually working within a confined space. It is therefore important that work environments are carefully analysed before work commences in order to determine whether or not they are confined spaces and to identify the associated risks.
Regulations and standards
Those involved in working in confined spaces should consult the relevant health and safety regulations and work health and safety laws to ensure compliance. It is also highly recommended to consult the Australian Standard, AS 2865-2009 Confined Spaces, which sets out best practice for working in confined spaces.
The legislation will state employers’ and employees’ legal obligations in relation to working in confined spaces. According to the Code of Practice1 for confined spaces, before work is carried out in a confined space all hazards must be identified and risks assessed, each worker must have an entry permit, first aid and rescue procedures must be established and adequate training must be undertaken.
The Australian Standard, AS 2865-2009 Confined Spaces is designed to assist people working in or near a confined space to understand their work environment and to operate within it in a safe manner. The Standard provides guidance on best practice in recognising the associated hazards, establishing a safe system for entry and conducting tasks in or on a confined space and reducing risks.
Hazard and risk assessments
When planning for work in confined spaces, a hazard and risk assessment is vital in helping to determine what precautions to take before entering a confined space.
A risk assessment should take into consideration the atmosphere in the confined space, all proposed work activities, the number of persons occupying the space, the soundness and security of the structure, the identity and nature of substances last contained in the confined space, emergency response procedures and the competence of the persons undertaking the work. The risk assessment should be carried out by a trained, competent person.
Hazards found in confined spaces can include restricted entry or exit, harmful airborne contaminants, inadequate oxygen levels or air flow, toxicity of any gas, dust or vapour, fire or explosion hazards and temperature extremes. Fires or explosions pose serious threat to life so potential ignition sources such as open flames, sparking or electrical equipment, internal combustion engines and static electricity should be identified.
Once the hazards are identified, it is important to understand the level of risk associated with these hazards so that the right decisions are made about how to eliminate or minimise the risks to health and safety.
Training and emergency response procedure
Training helps to ensure that effective plans and procedures are formulated and ready to be executed in the event of an emergency. According to Australian Standard, AS 2865-2009, those working within confined spaces must be trained and assessed as competent to perform those activities. Furthermore, training must be carried out by an approved training provider.
Regular training is essential so that employees are equipped with the knowledge and skills required to safely enter and operate in these confined spaces, avoid exposure to hazardous substances, flammable or explosive conditions and address other health and safety issues. They must also be familiar with escape methods and routes.
In case of emergency, equipment such as breathing apparatus, resuscitation equipment and safety harnesses, as well as appropriately trained persons must be immediately available. Unfortunately, it is not sufficient, nor will it often be a viable option, to dial 000 and wait for help. A comprehensive approach to rescue must be considered and each site should have a rescue procedure in place specific to that site.
Emergencies situations in confined spaces are often also extremely dangerous for the rescuers. Attempts to perform a rescue operation without adequate equipment and training simply put more people in harm’s way. Rescuers may themselves become injured or overcome by gases or oxygen deficiency, so having trained persons on site is essential.
Wormald’s confined space entry training
Competency based training should be consistent with Australian Standard, AS 2865 - 2009 Confined Spaces and the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission’s Core Training Elements for Confined Spaces.
Wormald offers a nationally accredited confined space entry training course which provides participants with the necessary training to enter and work in a confined space. The training covers the control of entry to confined spaces whether for maintenance, servicing of vessels or other reasons.
To provide a real-life situation, in some States Wormald can provide a mobile training facility unit so trainees can fully understand and manage the risks associated with confined spaces. Using the fully-equipped trailer, participants can experience the realities of accessing and working in enclosed spaces, and even participate in mock emergency scenarios and rescues under real life conditions.
Training modules include hazards of a confined space, risk assessment procedures, risk control measures, emergency procedures, the selection, use and maintenance of safety equipment, legislative requirements, entry permits, basic first aid and CPR and use of fire extinguishers. The program also includes practical scenarios such as entering a confined space.
There are many things to consider when planning for work in confined spaces from identifying appropriate legislation requirements; undertaking comprehensive risk assessments and ensuring all persons are accurately trained for the job. More information on Wormald’s confined space entry training can be found on our website www.wormald.com.au or you can call 133 166 to speak to a representative.
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