Safety Advice for When Working in Confined Spaces

With the vast array of employment opportunities in Britain, there is not one typical type of workplace environment. As well as those sat at a desk in an office there are many employees who work in challenging outdoor locations, some of which can be extremely hazardous.

Take a sewage worker or drainage engineer for example. When calling up a service in the instance where you need a sewage pipe unblocked, the conditions that are faced by the employee are not often considered.

According to the Health and Safety Executives (HSE) a number of people are killed or seriously injured whilst working in confined spaces every year in the UK. Working in these conditions is common for those in the manufacturing, sewage and drainage industry, with most of these fatalities having occurred within vessels, sewers, tanks and enclosed drains.

Working within confined spaces pose a wide variety of potential hazards to those that are required to enter them. Therefore, recognising the dangers is key. If the dangers of this type of work can be clearly identified it becomes much easier to find solutions and ways in which possible injuries can be prevented.

With the tightening of health and safety legislation in recent years, the consequences of a worker suffering an injury can be brutal. Not only are the victims involved affected, the firms and employers of the organisational body can be fined staggering amounts for both minor and major injuries.

Below is a list of the main risks associated with working in confined environments that are identified in the Confined Spaces Regulation 2001:

  • Toxic Atmosphere – Inhaling toxic fumes can be extremely dangerous, not only could it cause an instant loss of consciousness, it could have long term medical effects.
  • Oxygen Deficiency – Oxygen can be lacking in a confined space for the following reasons:
    –    displacement of air by another gas
    –    various biological processes or chemical reactions
  • Flammable or Explosive Atmospheres – With this, there is always the risk of a fire or explosion occurring.
  • Excessive Heat – The enclosed nature of a confined space can increase the risk of heat stroke or collapse from heat stress, if conditions are excessively hot.
  • Flowing Liquids or Free Flowing Solids – Liquids or solids can flow into the confined space causing drowning, suffocation, burns and other injuries.

Safety measures that must be taken:

  • If possible, avoid it – if it is not absolutely necessary to enter a confined space to carry out a job, don’t. Try and modify the space so that entry is not required. For instances such as drain clearing, a silo could be used so that the employee does not have to physically enter. Remote cameras could also be used to provide a visual view of the work that needs to be carried out.
  • Test the air – test for toxic and flammable gas before conducting the work – use a reliable gas monitor to do so.
  • Wear the appropriate clothing – employees should be wearing protective clothing and shoes with good grip.
  • Ensure staff are equipped with lighting equipment.
  • If possible, always ensure there is more than one employee working.
  • Ventilate the space or provide breathing apparatus – this is essential if the air inside the space cannot be made fit to breathe because of gas, fumes or vapour present.
  • Provide adequate training – ensure staff are trained in how to carry out the work safely. Ensure the employee is physically fit enough with no medical history.
  • Lone worker alarm – implement a lone worker protection system.  Peoplesafe’s service offers devices and apps to protect any type of employee, especially those working alone who need backup where no one is in close proximity to call for help. Peoplesafe’s Twig Ex (ATEX) device is designed to do just this. Its robust design is highly durable and ideal for staff working in explosive, hazardous areas. Along with two – way audio, GPS and Mandown capabilities, the device also features pre – defined buttons for voice calls and a dedicated button to raise an alarm in an emergency.