Confined spaces are a significant hazard in the workplace and each year Australian workers are killed and injured in confined space accidents. Tragically, multiple fatalities often occur when other workers enter the confined space attempting to rescue a workmate, and are overcome by toxic vapours/gases or as a result of oxygen deficiency.
Confined spaces are areas (tanks, pits, voids, vessels, etc.) that, by their nature, or the nature of their contents or the works to be conducted inside them, have specific hazards for people who are required to enter them. A comprehensive definition and explanation of confined spaces is provided in Australian Standard AS 2865-2009 ‘Confined Spaces’. Generally, confined spaces may have:
- restricted means of entry and exit;
- an atmosphere with potentially harmful levels of contaminants (poisonous or explosive mixtures of gases, vapours fumes or dusts);
- an unsafe level of oxygen: or
- a risk of engulfment from free-flowing solids or liquids
Confined spaces may include storage tanks, process or pressure vessels, boilers, silos & other tank-like compartments, open-topped spaces (such as pits & degreasers), dry-cargo holds, pipes, sewers, shafts, ducts & similar structures.
The OHS legislation places specific obligations on employers with respect to the management of confined spaces and training for confined space entry. Furthermore, employers have responsibilities to ensure that the provisions of the risk management process for confined spaces in their workplace have been undertaken. This risk management process for confined spaces involves the following steps:
STAGE 1 – IDENTIFICATION OF CONFINED SPACES
Confined spaces in the workplace must be identified. This identification process involves a site inspection, investigation and testing of the work areas and spaces in the workplace.
STAGE 2 – IDENTIFICATION OF OTHER HAZARDS
Additional hazards may be encountered with confined space works and they also need to be identified. These hazards may include exposure to noise, asbestos, chemicals and hazardous substances, heat stress, plant hazards (e.g. operation of moving equipment), engulfment, electrical hazards, explosion and fire.
STAGE 3 – RISK ASSESSMENT
When the hazards for each confined space have been identified, the risks must be assessed so that the appropriate controls can be implemented to eliminate or minimise these risks. The risk assessment must consider all the hazards, including those that may be introduced by the works to be conducted inside the confined space.
STAGE 4 – RISK CONTROLS & PROCEDURES
The implementation of appropriate risk control measures for confined space entry and work must be in place at the employers workplace, regardless who enters the confined space or undertakes the works (i.e. contractors, employer’s personnel, public or others). As such, documented procedures or instructions for confined space entry and works need to be established and must outline the following requirements:
- Isolation and Lock-Out / Tag-out of hazardous services
- Entry permit system
- Stand-by persons requirements & responsibilities
- Requirements for personal protective equipment
- Requirements for additional ventilation
- Atmospheric testing and monitoring
- Rescue and first aid equipment and emergency procedures
- Entry protection (signage and protective barriers)
- Training program & supervision
- Record keeping
SERVICES & EXPERIENCE
Hibbs & Associates Pty Ltd personnel are qualified, confined space trained and experienced occupational hygienists who can provide the following services:
- Identification of Confined Spaces
- Risk assessment
- Development of Confined Space entry and work procedures
- Atmospheric testing of confined spaces
- Supervision of confined entry works
For further information please contact:
Philip Hibbs on 0418 356 784, or
Dan Le Van on 0419 239 720