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Managing The Risks And Hazards of Confined Spaces

November 29, 2023

Sometimes, having a job to do means entering spaces not built for humans. On top of the rigorous training required, strict rules and regulations are in place for carrying out work in these dark, cramped, dangerous locations. The risks and hazards of working in confined spaces in construction and other industries are high, so the levels of regulation and professionalism need to match.   

According to Safe Work Australia, a confined space is an enclosed or partially enclosed space not designed to be occupied by a person. It also tends to have less than a safe level of air to breathe, and low oxygen levels are the biggest cause of death in confined spaces. Not only is the air insufficient, it’s frequently dangerous, and workers in confined spaces must deal with airborne gases, vapours and dust.

Yet workers in all kinds of industries venture into these spaces, sometimes on a daily basis. Construction workers, search and rescue officers, tank inspectors, welders, pipefitters and pipeline inspectors are among the many professionals who make their way into inhospitable environments like sewers, pumping stations, water mains, tanks, vats, pipes and shafts.

But no worker can enter a confined space without an entry permit and the proper training. Before any worker entry, a person with knowledge and skills of all the possible risks must complete a confined space risk assessment.

It’s not hard to see why confined space is considered high risk. But with the correct management procedures, you can minimise the risk and create a better, safer, more comfortable working environment for your team.

Read on to learn more about the hazards of confined spaces in the construction industry and how to address them.

Common Risks and Hazards of Confined Spaces

There are several hazards of working in confined spaces in construction and other industries that bosses and workers must be wary of. There are many reasons why confined space is considered high-risk, and some of the most common risks are:

Suffocation from lack of oxygen

Asphyxiation is frequently caused by a lack of oxygen in a confined space, but it can also result from suffocation by noxious gases, fumes or materials.

Loss of consciousness, injury or death from contaminants

In a confined space, there’s the risk of passing out, getting very sick or dying due to contaminants in the air in the form of dust, fumes, mist, biological matter or other chemicals.

Crushing or suffocation by substances

In environments like grain silos, there’s a risk of suffocation due to being crushed by a substance like flour, grain, sand or fertiliser.

Fires and explosions

Contaminants in the air not only risk making you sick, but they can also cause explosions and electrical fires in confined spaces. It’s important to test for flammable contaminants before using any electrical tools or equipment in confined spaces.

Fortunately, the hazards of working in confined spaces in construction are dramatically reduced with the right methods of prevention in place, including confined space risk assessment.

How to Minimise Risk

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The best approach to reducing the hazards of confined spaces in construction is multi-faceted. A confined space risk assessment and plan should take on board training, communication, safety protocols, emergency procedures and more. There are good reasons why confined space is considered high-risk, but there are several smart strategies you can use to address that.

Reduce the need to enter the confined space

One of the simplest methods to reduce workplace risks is to use tools such as mechanical aids instead where possible.

Ensure safe entry to and exit from confined spaces

Ensure walkways and other structures leading to the confined spaces are safe and no obstructions at the entry or exit points.

Test the air and ensure proper ventilation

As some chemicals are impossible to detect by smell alone, it’s important to test the air using equipment such as gas monitors and multi-gas detectors. As far as possible, you should supply fresh air to the confined space using a device such as a blower or extractor. Ensure that the equipment you use is suitable for the space, e.g. non-flammable.

Provide safety equipment

If hazardous chemicals are in the confined space and the employee's safety can’t be guaranteed, safety equipment such as respirator protective suits, gloves, goggles, etc., should be provided. Harnesses and winches that have been properly tested and shown to work are also useful.

Monitor the worker(s) inside the confined space

A person trained in emergency procedures should be on standby to monitor the worker inside the confined space. Safety devices like two-way radios and mobile phones can help accomplish this.

Practice emergency procedures

Employees should be trained in rescue and first aid procedures. Keep rescue and emergency equipment like fire extinguishers, lifelines and lifting gear onsite, and a first aid kit.  

What Happens if an Incident Occurs?

In an emergency, every second counts. Without an emergency plan, the hazards of confined spaces in construction can be lethal. Without a rescue plan and proper training, the life of the person trapped in the confined space is at risk, and so are the lives of other workers who attempt to rescue them.

There are numerous forms of incidents that can occur in a confined space. A worker can become stuck in the space, pass out due to gases, or a sudden fire or explosion.

There are three main forms of rescue: a worker can pull themselves out with the use of a contraption like a breathing apparatus, a trained team can use a tool such as a lifeline to rescue the worker without entering the space, or trained team members can enter the space to remove the worker physically.

If you want peace of mind in an emergency, the most proactive step you can take is to have a confined space rescue team on standby.

Complete Confined Space Management with SSTC

Site Security and Traffic Control (SSTC) can help you manage the hazards of confined spaces in construction and many other industries by handling every stage of the process for you. With over 25 years of combined experience and a history of working with some of Australia’s biggest construction companies, our team knows firsthand why confined space is considered a high-risk environment and what to do.

SSTC can help you with every stage of the confined space management process, from working with your policies and procedures and regulating permits and isolations to creating a confined space risk assessment. Our team is highly certified, with full accreditation and not a single accident in our track record.

SSTC even has you covered in case of emergency with our confined space rescue team. Our rescue team will neutralise dangers such as poisonous gases, perform rescue operations and evacuate the area. We also help to prevent emergencies by checking and testing the atmosphere of confined spaces before any workers are allowed to enter them.To beat the hazards of confined spaces in construction and create a better, safer environment for your team, contact SSTC for a free quote.

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