What You Need To Know: Staff Working In Confined Spaces

There are many dangers to be aware of which are guarded by UK government law and health and safety regulations, not least workplaces which involve staff whose job it is to stay or work in a confined space.

When looking after staff who are working in more unusual or difficult environments, it is important to be fully aware of their health and safety and the laws and regulations which oversee this.

This week, we look at staff working in confined spaces and how you can best supervise them and manage their health and safety.

What is a Confined Space?

A confined space is a place which is substantially enclosed (though not always entirely), and where serious injury can occur from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby (e.g. lack of oxygen).

Obvious examples, such as those that are enclosures with limited openings, are fairly obvious when it comes to being identified as “enclosed”, including:

  • Storage tanks
  • Silos
  • Reaction vessels
  • Enclosed drains
  • Sewers

Less obvious ones remain a serious threat and should be regulated in the same way as those above:

  • Open-topped chambers
  • Vats
  • Combustion chambers in furnaces etc.
  • Ductwork
  • Unventilated or poorly ventilated rooms

Why Are These Confined Spaces Dangerous?

Generally speaking, the main risks are from noxious fumes, reduced oxygen levels or an increased chance of fire hazards.

  • A lack of oxygen – multiple reasons for this, but includes a reaction between soils and oxygen in the atmosphere; action of groundwater on chalk and limestone, producing carbon dioxide; in ships’ holds, freight containers and lorries as a result of cargo reacting with oxygen; inside steel tanks and vessels when rust forms
  • Poisonous gas, fume or vapour – including build-up in sewers, manholes and pits connected to the system; entering tanks / vessels via pipes
  • Fire and explosions (e.g. from flammable vapours, excess oxygen etc.)
  • Residues left in tanks, vessels etc., or remaining on internal surfaces, which can give off gas, fume or vapour
  • Dust present in high concentrations, e.g. in flour silos
  • Hot conditions leading to a dangerous increase in body temperature

Best Practices for Working in Confined Spaces

Safe systems for employees working in confined spaces, include:

  • Appointment of a supervisor to monitor and manage spaces and staff
  • Considerations of employees suitability and capabilities of the work that is required, in this difficult environment
  • Isolation
  • Entrance size
  • Ventilation, emergency procedures, provision of a rescue harness and breathing apparatus may all be needed

Staff in Confined Spaces and Relevant Laws

Under domestic law (the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974) employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees and others. This responsibility is reinforced by regulations focused on confined spaces, namely:

  • The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

These regulations particularly focus on the following care requirements and 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; and
  • Put in place adequate emergency arrangements before the work starts

Business Health Partners say…

Ideally you should avoid entering a confined space unless it is part of your work role, if it is part of your job you should have been effectively trained, supervised and checked medically before starting work.

Employers should be mindful of the above advice to ensure that effective practices are in place and they are in line with current regulations.

Occupational health providers, like Business Health Partners, can give employers and their staff the sufficient knowledge and guidance to keep in line with laws.

Additionally, we can provide Pre-Employment Medical Screening, so your employees are best prepared for their role, also we can continue this medical support with ongoing testing.

If you’d like to know more about the occupational health services, training and consultancy that we provide, why not call 07720 956789 or if you like what you hear, follow us at @BusinessHealth_.  


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