Confined spaces act as workplace hazards in almost every occasion. Usually, not designed to be areas where people work, these spaces sometimes have to be entered to perform a specific task. Often confined spaces have poor ventilation which allows hazardous atmospheres to quickly develop even more so the smaller the space. The hazards are not always obvious and may change when you are moving throughout the area.
We have come a long way since the canary in the birdcage down the mine shaft days with a huge amount of money being spent on keeping workers safe. Even with new up to date technologies, workers can still find themselves in unsafe places that are hard to identify or hard to exit.
Some risks from working in confined spaces include:
- loss of consciousness, impairment, injury or death due to the immediate effects of airborne contaminants
- fire or explosion from the ignition of flammable contaminants
- difficulty rescuing and treating an injured or unconscious person
- Asphyxiation resulting from oxygen deficiency or immersion in a free-flowing material, such as grain, sand, fertiliser, water or other liquids.
What is a confined space?
When refiring to confined spaces when we talk about workplace health and safety in Australia; we are generally describing an enclosed or partially enclosed space that:
- is not designed or intended primarily to be occupied by a person; and
- is, or is designed or intended to be, at normal atmospheric pressure while any person is in the space; and
- is or is likely to be a risk to health and safety from:
- an atmosphere that does not have a safe oxygen level, or contaminants, including airborne gases, vapours and dusts, that may cause injury from fire or explosion, or harmful concentrations of any airborne contaminants, or engulfment.
In Australia, confined spaces are most commonly found in:
- Pressure vessels
- Underground sewers
- Wet or dry wells
You can no doubt see a reoccurring pattern with the examples above and how a worker may need to enter one of these spaces to clean it out, repair or maintain the area.
Who has a duty of care in Australia when it comes to Confined spaces?
- A person conducting a business or undertaking has the primary duty under the WHS Act to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking. The WHS Regulations include specific obligations on a person conducting a business or undertaking who has management or control of a confined space.
- Designers, manufacturers and suppliers of plant or structures that include a space that is intended, or is likely to become, a confined space must eliminate the need for any person to enter a confined space and eliminate the risk of inadvertent entry or, if this is not reasonably practicable, ensure safe means of entry and exit and minimise risks to the health and safety of any person who enters the confined space.
- Officers, such as company directors, have a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure that the business or undertaking complies with the WHS Act and Regulations. This includes taking reasonable steps to ensure that the business or undertaking has and uses appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks that arise from entry into confined spaces.
- Workers must take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that their work does not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. Workers must comply with any reasonable instructions given relating to confined space entry permits, risk control measures and emergency procedures, and should carry out work in a confined space in accordance with any relevant information and training provided to them.
- Emergency service workers are not required to comply with some requirements for entering confined spaces when either rescuing a person or providing first aid to a person in the space (WHS Regulations 67 and 68).
Confined spaces: deadly spaces
WorkSafeBC (British Columbia)