If you're entering a career working in the construction industry, you may find that you are expected to work in confined spaces from time-to-time, and your employer should enrol you on a special confined space training course to fully equip you and your colleagues for this. But what defines 'confined space' working and what are the risks?
What is a 'confined space'?
A 'confined space' is defined as an area that is largely enclosed and which presents a potential risk to workers from any of the following hazards:
- loss of consciousness
The area that you are working in could be as large as a grain storage silo or a railway tunnel or as small as a section of sewer pipe.
What hazards could you expect to meet?
There are a number of hazards that you could expect to encounter when working in confined spaces, including:
- toxic fumes or gases
- lack of oxygen
- dust or other airborne contaminants
Before carrying out work in confined spaces, you should assess the risks presented and take steps to control those risks. Areas that present the danger of liquids or gases entering should be sealed-off via valves if possible. Ventilation should be put in place if fumes could be an issue, and breathing apparatus may be appropriate if oxygen levels are low and it's not feasible to adequately ventilate the area.
You should also have an emergency plan in place in case of accidents that is not reliant on the emergency services; there may not be time to wait for their arrival, especially if you are working far underground or in a remote location. Consider the following points when devising your emergency contingency plan:
- There must be communication that enables those outside the confined space to establish that the worker has not been rendered unconscious.
- In the event of an accident, how will you get the casualty out quickly and safely?
Before you or your colleagues undertake any work in confined spaces, make sure that the appropriate confined space training has been carried out. You must also make sure that you can use any safety equipment provided and that you are competent and confident in the work that you are expected to do.
It's your employer's responsibility to ensure that you and your colleagues are correctly trained in working in confined spaces. Never work in a confined space if you don't have to and don't ignore the risks of a confined space job.