Health & Safety Precautions in Confined Spaces
If the right precautions aren’t taken, working in confined spaces can be extremely dangerous. For this reason, the UK government has passed several confined spaces regulations over the years. Here, we take a look at what constitutes a confined space and what responsibilities employers have to their employees when operating in confined spaces.
Definition of a Confined Space
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a confined space as;
‘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)’
This is the UK’s generally accepted definition of a confined space – in regards to workplace activities. While this means that confined spaces are relevant to many industries and employment roles, they’re particularly important when it comes to the sewage industry, mining, and the docks and cargo industry.
Amongst other things, confined spaces can include;
- Storage tanks
- Unventilated rooms
Why are Confined Spaces Risky?
Confined spaces pose a substantial danger to employees for several reasons. These include;
- Low oxygen levels
- The presence of noxious or dangerous substances in the air
- Flowing liquids and free flowing solids
- Structural damage or collapse
All of these risks could cause severe injury or even death. Consequently, employers need to ensure that their employees are aware of the dangers of working in confined spaces, know how to mitigate them, and understand how to respond should something go wrong.
Relevant Legal Regulations
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) state that a thorough Risk Assessment must be carried out before work in confined spaces can take place. This involves identifying the risks and hazards, then establishing what safety measures are necessary. Those carrying out the assessment should consider what risks the environment poses, what equipment is involved, who is carrying out the work, what training that individual has, and what the rescue plan is, should anything go wrong.
If, during the confined spaces Risk Assessment, it becomes apparent that there is a risk of significant injury to employees, employees need to refer to the Confined Spaces Regulations (1997). These state the employer must;
- Avoid entering the confined space if at all possible (i.e. performing the work remotely or from outside the space).
- If the work cannot be carried out any other way, employees must be provided with a safe system of work.
- There must be an emergency response prepared in case something does go wrong.
Confined Space Training
All employees must be provided with adequate training before entering a confined space. While you may be able to deliver this training yourself, many organisations use a specialist training provider to ensure that all the necessary information is delivered in as effective a manner as possible.
Failure to adhere to the confined spaces regulations could have extremely damaging results. To ensure that your business is fulfilling its duty of care to your employees, we recommend discussing your confined spaces policy with professional Health and Safety Consultants.