Our mission at Newcastle Safety Servicing is to ensure that all employees remain safe with the correct equipment and education to minimise worksite risks. Newcastle Safety Servicing are the leading providers of confined space equipment for industry professionals. Made for industry workers by industry experts, Newcastle Safety Servicing understands the rigour and risks of working in confined spaces.
For this article, we’ll refer to confined spaces as areas with a restricted entry or exit containing a potentially toxic or oxygen deficient atmosphere. Typically, when referring to risks of working in confined spaces, we refer to confined spaces as areas that have potentially hazardous atmospheres, are challenging to get in and out of, risk of collapse, exposure to oxygen restriction or enrichment, or contain other dangerous materials such as grain.
So, what are the hazards of working in a confined space? Confined spaces can carry exposure to toxic atmospheres, oxygen deficiency & asphyxiation risks, noxious fumes, flammable or explosive materials, or flooding.
Arguably one of the primary risks of working in confined spaces is exposure to a toxic atmosphere. Toxic atmospheres in confined spaces can cause various impairments, including impacting judgement, brain function and causing unconsciousness. In the most acute cases, the risk of a poisonous atmosphere in confined spaces can cause death by asphyxiation.
There are two aspects of oxygen deficiency. The first is suffocation from a lack of oxygen flow due to the restricted space, and the second is suffocation from materials such as grain, sand or flour. Both risks can cause unconsciousness or even death.
On the contrary, oxygen enrichment is one of the severe risks of working in confined spaces. Gases or liquids that contain an oxygen concentration of over 21% can increase the risk of excessive heat, fire or other hazards.
Noxious fumes are corrosive gases that are typically related to industrial by-product gases or exhaust fumes. Examples of toxic fumes include petrol, gas, and smoke. When noxious fumes are exposed, they can cause high temperatures, pressurised environments and are detrimental to your health. The outcome of exposure to these fumes is one of the most common risks of working in confined spaces that workers should consider.
One of the most unpredictable risks of working in confined spaces is exposure to flammable or explosive materials. Be sure only to use non-sparking and flameproof equipment in these areas to eliminate risk.
Confined spaces are particularly prone to flooding as there is no outlet for the liquids. Flooding can occur within seconds, so all workers must have a safety/escape plan in the event of flooding.
So, what should you do if you are exposed to confined space hazards in the workplace? We’ll identify some initial steps that you can take below to minimise harm to yourself and others when facing the risks of working in confined spaces.
Firstly, minimise risk by removing yourself and others from the environment. Do not enter a confined space without adequate training and safety equipment. If in doubt, alert management and organise a hazard identification inspection for the site.
Engaging with a Safety officer will identify risks, control hazards, or eliminate them. Risk control may involve exploring ways to conduct the work without entering the confined space altogether.
Additionally, professional safety personnel will conduct atmosphere testing to ensure that invisible gases are detected. Once the inspection and risk management is complete, you will then attain a confined space entry permit that states you can work practically at the site with minimal risk.
Create an emergency plan and ensure that your team understand the risks involved in working in confined spaces. By devising an emergency response plan and undertaking regular rehearsals, you can prepare your team for worst-case scenarios and ensure safety.
Establishing a clean and well-ventilated worksite is beneficial for all participants’ safety, but what if that is impossible? Investing in the right gear, such as breathing apparatus, non-sparking tools, communication systems, lifelines, supervision, and consistent gas detection equipment, could save lives.
If you feel as though the hazards of working in a confined space at your worksite have not been adequate addresses after following steps one to four, engage with authorities to ensure safety at your worksite.
Identifying, addressing, monitoring and where possible, eliminating risks of working in confined spaces increases your team’s safety and well-being and can save lives. For more information on confined space hazards and equipment, contact Newcastle Safety Servicing today.