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Confined Space Assessments

A number of people are killed or seriously injured in confined spaces each year in the UK. This happens in a wide range of industries, from those involving complex plant to simple storage vessels. Those killed include people working in the confined space and those who try to rescue them without proper training and equipment.

A confined space can be any space of an enclosed nature where there is a risk of death or serious injury from hazardous substances or dangerous conditions (e.g. lack of oxygen).

There must be a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks for all work activities.  This is for the purpose of deciding what measures are necessary for safety as required by The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.  For work in confined spaces this means identifying the hazards present, assessing the risks and determining what precautions to take.

Our confined space specialists will cover the following when carrying out the risk assessment:

  • The task
  • The working environment
  • Working materials and tools
  • The suitability of those carrying out the task
  • Arrangements for emergency rescue

Dangers can arise in confined spaces because of the following issues.

  • A lack of oxygen.
  • Poisonous gases, fumes or vapours.
  • Liquids and solids which can suddenly fill the space, or release gases into it when disturbed.
  • Fire and explosions (e.g. from flammable vapours or even excess oxygen).
  • Residues left in tanks, vessels or remaining on internal surfaces, which can give off gases, fumes or vapours.
  • Dust present in high concentrations, e.g. in flour silos.
  • Hot conditions leading to a dangerous increase in body temperature.

Some of the above conditions may already be present in the confined space.   However, some may arise from the work being carried out, or because of ineffective isolation of plant nearby, e.g. leakage from a pipe connected to the confined space.

The enclosure and working space may increase other dangers arising from the work being carried out, for example:

  • machinery being used may require special precautions, such as provision of dust extraction for a portable grinder, or special precautions against electric shock;
  • gas, fume or vapour can arise from welding, or by use of volatile and often flammable solvents or adhesives;
  • where access to the space is through a restricted entrance, such as a manhole, escape or rescue in an emergency will be more difficult.

Where the assessment identifies risks of serious injury from work in confined spaces, the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 apply and these regulations contain the following key duties:

  • Avoid entry to confined spaces, e.g. by doing the work from the outside
  • If entry to a confined space is unavoidable, follow a safe system of work
  • Put in place adequate emergency arrangements before the work starts.

The best method for ensuring the safety of your staff and any contractors is preventing the need for rescue.  To that end we offer a wide range of confined space consultancy services to ensure safe work in confined spaces.  These include ensuring that all work is adequately prepared for and planned; carrying out risk assessments and preparing method statements to ensure a safe system of work and designing robust rescue plans in case of an emergency.

Contact us to find out how we can help your business remain safe and compliant, or to arrange a free consultation with one of our expert consultants.

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