What You Need to Remember When Entering and Working in Confined Spaces
Some workplaces have more inherent dangers than others. For example, a construction site is more hazardous than a classroom or a beauty salon. Confined spaces, like tunnels and manholes, are other potentially dangerous places in which to work.
The problem is that there are times when working in confined spaces is required, even critical. This is why there is a need for a lot of precautions. Here are just a few things you need to consider and remember if and when you need to enter or work in confined spaces:
The Training Required Before You Can Work in a Confined Space
The short answer to this question is yes. You need to have the necessary occupational health and safety training before you’re able to enter and work within a confined space. No matter your role, whether you’re an observer or a worker, you have to undergo training and assessment to prove that you have the competency to to perform the job.
The training must be provided by a recognised provider and the assessment must be conducted in compliance with NZQA Unit Standards in Confined Space requirements. The training course should cover the following:
- Hazards related to working in or near confined spaces
- Safe work practices
- Emergency response
- Proper selection, fitting, use, and maintenance of personal protective equipment
- Gas detection
- Observer (stand-by person) responsibilities
- Legislation and standards related to working in or near confined spaces
The training course should also have a practical component so that you can experience a confined space before actual entry or work. Moreover, refresher courses are required at least every 2 years.
The Definition of a Confined Space
To appreciate the need for training before entering and working in a confined space, you need to know how it’s defined. According to AS 2865:2009, a confined space is a fully or partially enclosed space that is not designed for human occupancy. Moreover, a confined space has risk of one or more of the following situations:
- A concentration of one or more flammable airborne contaminants that can cause injuries from fires or explosions
- A concentration of one or more airborne contaminants that may cause injuries, impairments, loss of consciousness, or asphyxiation
- A concentration of oxygen that is outside the safe range
- Engulfment in a rising level of liquid or store free-flowing solid that can cause drowning or suffocation
Examples of a confined space include pits, pipelines, sewers, shafts, manholes, tunnels, ductwork, and shipboard spaces. Vaults, tanks, storage bins, and silos also qualify as a confined space.
The Minimum Requirements for Entering and Working in Confined Spaces
As prescribed by the NZQA, those who enter and work in confined spaces must have the following Confined Space Unit Standards:
- NZQA Unit Standard 17599 – plan a confined space entry
- NZQA Unit Standard 25510 – operate an atmospheric testing device to determine a suitable atmosphere to work safely
- NZQA Unit Standard 18426 – demonstrate knowledge of hazards associated with confined spaces
Moreover, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) requires persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to be able to do the following:
- identify and conduct a risk assessment about the hazards associated with working in the confined space
- control the risks posed by the hazards through elimination or minimisation if elimination isn’t possible or practicable
The Hazards of Entering and Working in a Confined Space
As earlier mentioned and emphasised, entering and working in a confined space pose dangers that can be injurious or even lethal. One of these dangers include oxygen deficiency, which can cause unconsciousness, brain damage, or death.
Many confined spaces also contain vapours, fumes, dust, grains, and bacteria that can be inhaled, which can cause severe reactions and lethal diseases. These particles and substances can also sometimes be flammable.
Moreover, confined spaces can cause accidents such as engulfment by materials such as sand, sawdust, fertiliser, or grain. Workers may also be trapped or injured by machines such as mixers, conveyor belts, or agitators.
All of these are not to mention the dangers caused by the byproducts of the work being conducted. These include extreme temperature, extreme vibrations, loud noises, and even radiation.
Other Important Details When Working in a Confined Space
Aside from having the appropriate training, you also need to take note of other important details before working in a confined space. For example, you need to have the right personal protective equipment or PPE. Depending on the confined space you’re working in, PPE may include the following:
- Safety helmet
- Goggles for eye protection
- Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
- Hearing protection such as earmuffs
- Safety harness
PCBUs should also have a written authority for entry to work. This is a type of permit, which also doubles as a checklist to help ensure that all safety requirements are met.
There should also be a stand-by person (who also has training), tasked to observe the proceedings and ensure safety of the person or persons working in the confined space. The stand-by person is also responsible for taking first action during emergencies.
Finally, everyone inside the confined space must be knowledgeable about emergency procedures and equipment. These include first aid, firefighting gear, PPE and RPE, as well as emergency contact details.
All of these may seem tedious, but they’re necessary considerations to ensure safety and efficiency. Take note of this list before you endeavour to work in confined spaces.