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Regulation 4 of the Confined Spaces Regulation 1997 states that working in confined spaces should be avoided unless entry is unavoidable. If the work is deemed as necessary and entry unavoidable, then it is the legal obligation of the employer to deploy safety measures for the worker(s) entering the confined space.

To deploy effective safety measures, a thorough/specific Confined Space Risk Assessment must be completed for each type of confined space entry.

What is a Confined Space?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines as a confined space as “one which is both enclosed, or largely enclosed, and which also has a reasonably foreseeable risk to workers of fire, explosion, loss of consciousness, asphyxiation or drowning”. For example, it could be a small and restrictive space for the worker making it difficult to move or it may be a larger space such as a silo that only has one form of entrance and exit.

What is Confined Space Risk Assessment?

Similarly to a Fire Risk Assessment, an employer must nominate someone to be the ‘competent person’ who will complete the confined spaces risk assessment. It is important that all hazards are identified before work begins so that appropriate safety measures can be put in place.

Confined Space Risk Assessments typically follow the HSE’s 5 Steps to Risk Assessment;

Identifying hazards

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm. Identifying these will allow for appropriate control measures to be put in place for the workers who will be completing the work, ensuring their safety.

Who will be affected by each hazard?

Here the assessor must identify the groups of people who will affected by each hazard. The routine of a business should also be considered here.

Evaluating the risks

Here the assessor should determine the likelihood of any kind of harm occurring due to an identified hazard.

Recording the findings

Recording the findings of a risk assessment allow the hazards, risks, and suggested management systems to communicated more effectively.

Revising the assessment when changes occur in the workforce or the Confined Space Entry Plan

Workplace environments can change which can lead to new hazards appearing that weren’t in the original assessment, it’s important to ensure that any new hazards are properly documented and assessed.

Due to this, once specific Confined Space Entry RAMS have been established, the work should be controlled further by the issuing of a Permit to Enter (Hazardous Work Permit / Permit to Work), this prompting the review of the RAMS and potentially adding additional control measures etc. as the findings dictate.

What Hazards are involved with Confined Spaces?

There are several hazards that are common across work taking place in confined spaces. Whether you’re working in a sewer, drain, or crawl space, the potential hazards must be assessed before work can be undertaken. Some of the most common hazards that occur on confined spaces are –

  • Fire hazards – hot works, explosive gases
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Panic attacks
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Dangerous gasses
  • Flooding – drowning
  • Unstable temperatures (Hot & Cold)
  • Low oxygen levels
  • Unguarded machinery / moving parts
  • Falling objects
  • Trips, slips and falls
  • Hazards introduced by your planned work activity within the confined space

Working in Confined Spaces Advice

While it is highly recommended that working in confined spaces is avoided unless it is necessary, if the work must be done, we advise that you consider the following –

Note: this list is provided as a guide only and is not meant to be a comprehensive list, as each Confined Space needs to be assessed individually to determine suitable control measures to be applied.

  • A suitable Permit to Enter (Hazardous Work Permit / Permit to Work) is issued by a responsible person prior to each confined space entry, this to control entry etc.
  • The Confined Space Entry RAMS are reviewed and communicated prior to each confined space entry, this to ensure that they remain suitable and sufficient.
  • Make sure the person/s undertaking the work are fit and healthy, capable of carrying out the work and are suitably trained – the latter in carrying out the work activity and being Confined Space Entry trained.
  • Ensure that person/s are further trained (as applicable) on the use of breathing apparatus, gas detection devices, safety harnesses, extraction winches / hoists etc.
  • Ensure that reliable and regular means of communication with the person/s working in the confined space are in place.
  • Ensure that an Emergency Evacuation/Extraction Plan is in place and that a fully trained Emergency Rescue Team is on standby.
  • Consider how to check for poisonous gases or oxygen depletion prior to entry and during entry into the confined space.
  • Consider how to properly ventilate the space to ensure that there are no toxic fumes, and the air is breathable.
  • Consider the structural stability of the confined space.
  • Consider if the confined space needs to be isolated prior to entry – whether valves can be locked shut / blanked off if there is a risk of flooding etc. or any machinery/equipment needs to be isolated.
  • Consider the hazards being introduced into the confined space by the planned work activities to be undertaken.
  • Consider work activities outside the confined space which may have an impact on work activities inside the confined space.

If you need to complete a Confined Spaces Risk Assessment, feel free to contact us for more information on how our health and safety specialists can support you. Call us on 01623 753 654 or send us an email.

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