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Confined Spaces

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

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).

Some confined spaces are fairly easy to identify, eg enclosures with limited openings:

  • storage tanks;

  • silos;

  • reaction vessels;

  • enclosed drains;

  • sewers.

Others may be less obvious, but can be equally dangerous, for example:

  • open-topped chambers;

  • vats;

  • combustion chambers in furnaces etc;

  • ductwork;

  • unventilated or poorly ventilated rooms.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers and self-employed people to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks for all work activities for the purpose of deciding what measures are necessary for safety. For work in confined spaces this means identifying the hazards present, assessing the risks and determining what precautions to take. In most cases the assessment will include consideration of:

  • the task;

  • the working environment;

  • working materials and tools;

  • the suitability of those carrying out the task;

  • arrangements for emergency rescue.

If your assessment identifies risks of serious injury from work in confined spaces, such as the dangers highlighted above, the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 apply. 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; and

  • put in place adequate emergency arrangements before the work start

A HSE Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) has been produced for those involved in work within confined spaces, those who employ or train such people and those that represent them. It explains the definition of a confined space in the Regulations and gives examples, as well as helping you assess the risk of working within a particular confined space and putting precautions in place for the work to be carried out safely.

if you think any of the above affects you or your business please contact us here for further help an advice in managing the risks.

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