Confined Space Safety | TECH EHS

Table of Contents

Introduction

It’s imperative to remember that safety in confined spaces is not just about compliance with regulations but about protecting lives. Regular reviews and updates of safety protocols, coupled with continuous education, will help ensure that every worker returns home safely.

Did you overlook a critical hazard when preparing for restricted-space work? Which one do you believe gets forgotten the most? And why are confined spaces dangerous?

If you listen to a lot of employees, managers, and health and safety advisers, you may believe that the only things that could kill people in a confined place are explosions and dangerous gases.

If you ask someone who has studied the Confined Space Regulations 1997, they will likely correctly point out that drowning and severe increases in body temperature are among the consequences.

So, what is typically overlooked?

Falling and falling things.

If you’re falling headfirst down a pitch-black hole in the ground, wearing steel toe cap boots and a hi-viz vest won’t do much good.

How often have you seen someone open a manhole cover before standing next to it with their hands on their knees and bending over to see what’s underneath?

They might even be monitoring the gas, which is necessary, yet they could fall in! In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a health and safety manager or trainer lecturing staff members while standing next to an open cover or hatch with a 4 or 5-meter drop below it about the dangers of oncoming traffic, the weather and the necessity for the proper PPE. Not a harness or barrier to be found. The group may then be permitted to peer inside the cramped area, craning their necks to peer down into the shadows.

Any number of distinct cramped areas, including a silo, vessel, or valve chamber. This is a typical circumstance for many businesses that operate in small areas.

There are seven risks that make enclosed spaces dangerous.

If working in limited spaces is unavoidable, you must use utmost caution. The results of getting into trouble in a small area can be fatal. Training via practical and virtual learning, such as safety animation and eLearning, and confined space risk assessment shall enhance their SMEs in confined spaces.

For now, here are the top 7 dangers in restricted spaces.

Confined Space Hazards: Hazards of Working in Confined Spaces

1. Low Oxygen Levels: A Critical Confined Space Hazard

Organic reactions can draw oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere within a small area. Certain soils and oxygen, or groundwater and chalk or limestone, can react to produce carbon dioxide, which replaces oxygen in the atmosphere. The formation of rust inside tanks might also result in an oxygen shortage.

After accessing a cargo hold at Goole Docks in 2014, three crew members perished.

According to the research, the compartment’s oxygen levels were between 5% and 6% at the compartment deck, likely because of the lumber load.

2. Vapors, Fumes, and Gases: Hazards from Confined Space Environments

Due to poor ventilation, constrained spaces are particularly susceptible to the build-up of poisonous vapors and gases.

For example, deadly gas leaks from polluted land or burst gas pipes can enter the small space. Alternatively, they could be produced by tasks like welding, adhesives, or paint fumes.

These gases and vapors can potentially produce a hazardous atmosphere in tight spaces without extraction or ventilation.

3. Flooding: Potential Risks of Confined Space Flooding

Liquids could soon overflow the little area, especially in drainage or sewer operations, trapping people within and possibly drowning them.

And you ought to be concerned about more than simply liquids. Solids can also overflow small places, such as collapsed trenches, putting anyone inside the trench at risk of becoming trapped or buried.

Because confined places might be small, flooding can happen quickly, giving no time for escape.

4. Dust

Dust can accumulate in tight spaces either naturally or because of an activity, such as drilling or grinding.

Inhaling too much dust can lead to lung issues, and dangerous dust can even be fatal.

Dust accumulation can also raise the risk of a fire or explosion, particularly in areas with poor ventilation.

5. Explosions and Fires

The presence of flammable dust, liquids, gases, and vapours inside the enclosed space can increase the risk of fire and explosions. Any hot work or items that can spark when used in a restricted location also increases the risk.

Recall how the first item on our list was an oxygen shortage. Of course, too much oxygen is hazardous as well. Oxygen levels that are too high raise the possibility of fire and explosion.

6. Thermostat

A harmful rise in body temperature might be caused by difficult building work, heated conditions, or naturally occurring heat. This can quickly develop into a problem in small locations that are challenging to escape, even under ideal circumstances.

Due to the constrained nature of a limited space, heat can build quickly.

Heatstroke, exhaustion, and collapse may result from this.

7. Access Limitations: Challenges in Confined Space Entry and Exit

In addition to being dangerous, confined locations can be challenging to enter. This makes it difficult to leave and makes any emergency rescue challenging.

Once you are in a small area, it could be difficult or impossible to escape. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand that work can be done safely before you enter and that emergency plans are in place.

Remember, if working in confined spaces is unavoidable, you must conduct a risk assessment to determine the dangers and what safety measures are required to control the risk.

One step away from not going home from confined space hazards

While explosives and hazardous gases continue to be significant threats in many tight areas, another concern frequently goes unrecognized. It is a risk that, overall, is responsible for the most workplace fatalities.

“…a thump and moans of anguish, then a minute of silence.”

Imagine the setting for a typical hazard in a confined space.

A group of workers is using a manhole around 10 feet deep to access a tight place. In the center of a field, there is a manhole. The area has been gas-tested and vented. Over the manhole, a tripod has been placed. This is a solid beginning. As they descend a ladder or step irons, the tripod will enable them to be secured to a fall arrest device.

Two of the employees are positioned about two feet from the manhole, adjacent to the tripod, and are both wearing harnesses. But nothing is attached to their harnesses! If you take one step back, there will be a brief silence, followed by a thump and agonizing groans. They’ll drop through the manhole quite effortlessly.

They may enter the manhole safely thanks to the harnesses they are donning. But because they are so close to the entrance, they are vulnerable and at risk of falling at any time.

The examples of confined space hazards above are not good at all.

For that matter, the law and regulations specify.

“When performing work at a height, every employer must take reasonable precautions to prevent employees from falling an unsafe distance.”

In the confined space access scenario we’ve considered so far, there is a chance that someone could fall and sustain a personal injury.

But from above ground, nothing has been done about it. What appropriate and sufficient steps might there be to stop this, then?

Steps To Be Taken For Safe Working In Confined Spaces

1.Barriers

Barriers are preferred wherever possible. They prevent workers at ground level from falling. Additionally, some of them contain a gate so that workers can enter through the gate after attaching to a tripod-mounted fall arrest device while outside the barrier. Collective protection, such as barriers, is preferred when comparing fall protection strategies since they protect everyone beyond the confined zone.

Additionally, little training is needed for barriers to work. Barriers have the drawback of potentially obstructing rescue operations. Some metal barrier systems have been attached to tripods or davit arms, resulting in a durable and portable integrated access solution.

2.Lanyards

Workers can be protected using personal protection devices like fall arrest lanyards or adjustable lanyards. They provide a versatile option that leaves the tripod accessible while shielding one person. Barriers are typically preferred because these systems can only protect one person at a time; nevertheless, in a rescue scenario, lanyards can provide more room for extracting a casualty in an emergency.

Lanyards should be utilized as a component of “work restraint” systems whenever practical. To avoid falling, the user cannot reach the fall hazard physically. This will continue to permit the tripod’s or other rescue equipment’s usual operation if properly configured.

Conclusion

Understanding the dangers of confined spaces is crucial for ensuring the safety and well-being of workers. Each of the seven hazards discussed—oxygen deficiency, toxic atmospheres, flammable gases, entrapment, engulfment, physical obstacles, and limited ventilation—poses unique risks that can lead to severe injuries or fatalities if not correctly managed.

Employers and workers alike must prioritize safety measures, including comprehensive training, rigorous hazard assessments, and the use of appropriate safety equipment. By fostering a culture of safety and vigilance, we can significantly reduce the risks associated with working in confined spaces.

Stay informed, stay prepared, and most importantly, stay safe.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

A confined space is an area not designed for continuous occupancy and has limited means of entry and exit. Examples include tanks, silos, underground vaults, and pipelines. These spaces can pose significant safety and health risks.

Physical obstacles like machinery, pipes, or structural elements can restrict movement, making it hard for workers to escape in an emergency or for rescuers to reach them.

Workers should undergo proper training, follow established safety protocols, use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and conduct thorough hazard assessments before entering confined spaces. Continuous monitoring of the environment is also crucial.

8.2 min read Views: 135 Categories: Safety Animation

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