Below Thorne & Derrick explain and investigate the dangers of working in a confined space and how to mitigate risks with the use of correctly certified and fully compliant equipment.
There is a range of specialised equipment such as lighting, power, heat, ventilation & portable gas detection, as well as codes of practice, regulations and standards directly aimed to provide protection for workers in confined spaces.
Ensuring workers can safely carry out maintenance, repair and installation works in hazardous area locations with potentially explosive atmospheres is critical for any employer.
Unfortunately a lack of understanding, poor working practices and a failure to carry out pre-entry checks are the main causes of incidents when working within a limited space.
Guidelines and legislation are in place to help protect those exposed to the risk and it is the employers responsibility to carry out risk assessment and implement safe systems of work to protect their employees.
Working in a confined space is dangerous because of the risks from noxious fumes, reduced oxygen levels, or a risk of fire. Other dangers may include flooding/drowning or asphyxiation from some other source such as dust, grain or other contaminant.
It is one of the most highly focused areas of occupational safety, but some may question why there is so much attention and whether it is justified.
Let’s start by understanding what is a confined space?
“The definition of confined spaces is often misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misapplied in the hazardous area industry”
A confined space is one which is both enclosed, or largely enclosed, and which also has a reasonably foreseeable risk to workers of fire, explosion, loss of consciousness, asphyxiation or drowning – – HSE | Health & Safety Executive UK
What are the main factors that determine it?
• It can be substantially enclosed but not entirely
• Large enough for a person to enter
• Not designed for continuous worker occupancy
• An area can become a confined space due to the nature of the work being carried out or during their construction, fabrication or subsequent modification
• Most are easily identified – however please remember that it doesn’t necessarily have to be enclosed on all sides
UK CONFINED SPACE REGULATION
UK HSE regulation states that under domestic law (the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974) any space of an enclosed nature where there is a risk of death of death or serious injury from hazardous substances or dangerous conditions (eg lack of oxygen) employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees and others. This responsibility is reinforced by the following regulations:
The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997
Apply where the assessment identifies risks of serious injury from work in confined spaces.
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
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.
Some confined spaces are more easily recognisable than others:
• Storage tanks
• Reaction vessels
• Enclosed drains
However a confined space is not always substantially enclosed and can include:
• Open-topped chambers
• Combustion chambers in furnaces
• Badly ventilated or rooms with no ventilation
There is no complete list as a place not usually considered to present confined space hazards may become one eg a spray booth can introduce risks to an enclosed space normally considered free of contaminants and to have a safe level of oxygen.
HAZARDOUS OF ENTERING CONFINED SPACES
• Excessive temperature (loss of consciousness)
• Flammable gas & O2 enrichment (serious injury)
• Toxic gas, fumes or vapour (poisoning or asphyxiation)
• Oxygen deficiency (asphyxiation)
• Physical dangers such as increased levels of liquid (drowning) and free flowing solids (crushing)
If hazardous conditions are present, a permit specifying safety measures and names of those permitted in the space must be written before any work can take place.
All workers should be informed of the hazards with entry and exit signposts if required.
Reducing fire hazards and safety risks in confined spaces requires suitable equipment being used in these areas.
This requires hazardous area certified explosion-proof heating, lighting, ventilation and power supply systems – a start-to-finish safety and rescue plan will review the specific equipment needed.
HSE’s document explains the importance of personnel wearing PPE when entering a confined space, whether its an employer providing for their employee, or self-employed. PPE must also be fully maintained on a regular basis.
“Hazards such as high or low oxygen levels, cannot be seen, and have no smell.”
Best practice suggests that workers who are undertaking work in confined space are advised to have Level 2 & 3 qualifications. This could be to carry out work, as a top man supporting entry or conducting emergency rescue and recovery. However, there level 5 qualification is advised for those who manage confined space entry.
The Confined Spaces (Water) scheme records certifications of individuals and provides the water industry and its employers assurance of the level of technical competence achieved by individuals who enter, supervise or manage work in low, medium or high risk confined spaces within the water industry.
City and Guilds also provide qualifications. with the 6150 qualifications being replaced by 6160 Confined Spaces. The updated qualification content is based on the National Occupational Standards developed by Energy & Utility Skills for the industry. These qualifications are for those who have to enter, supervise or manage confined spaces. They are short course single unit qualifications and are supported by the Health and Safety Executive.
➡ Thorne & Derrick stock and supply a number of products that can help alleviate some of the risks.
The LinkEx™ WF-250XL LED Floodlite is designed to give the optimum level of light for working in smaller hazardous area confined spaces. Available in high and low voltage models, it is ideal for 24 volt applications with a limited power supply, where up to 8 floodlights can be connected from just one Wolf transformer. It produces over 3,000 lumens of white light, which is more than enough to illuminate a 5m square tank or a similar sized space without dazzling.
The cable reel with ATEX Certification enables chains of portable lighting in different confined space and hazardous areas workplace locations to be connected together and extended from one central point, allowing for an increased surface area to be lit fast and with ease. Operating from 230V or 110V, the cable reel allows for many different hazardous area lighting solutions to accommodate different applications.
Portable ATEX heaters can be placed inside the confined space or ducted to provide elevated ambient temperatures to help reduce curing times or ensure the application of paint is carried out as per manufacturer’s instructions. EXHEAT’s MFH ‘The Bulldog’ is the world’s first truly portable hazardous area fan assisted heater. The Bulldog combines efficient design with simple functionality to provide a Portable Heating Solution for use in Hazardous Environments where the atmosphere is classified as Zone 1/21 and Zone 2/22 (IIA, IIB and H2).
Thorne & Derrick & Woodcock and Wilson have combined resources to bring to the market a fully compliant & correctly certified portable ventilation solution for explosive atmospheres that end users can trust. Compact and robust in design the Exstream range offers an effective option for confined space ventilation for hazardous areas meeting all the users specific needs.
Crowcon T4 is part of the Crowcon range of portable gas detectors and provides protection in confined spaces against the four most common gas hazards – these hazards are carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, flammable gases and oxygen depletion. The many advanced features of the Crowcon T4 include rugged, IP65 and IP67-rated housing offering enhanced reliability in harsh environments, 24 hour safety, long battery life, TWA resume feature and an invertible screen.
Unfortunately, people are still killed or seriously injured working in confined spaces in the UK each year. These accidents happen across a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, utilities, maritime, construction and offshore. This includes workers in the confined space itself and as well as those who may have to step in and help when accidents occur.
Despite legislation and health and safety measures, these incidents highlight that confined space working poses a very high risk and it’s important to ensure that the right people have the correct skills and capabilities for the roles they undertake. Ensuring workers are equipped with the correct PPE and equipment plays a vital role in safe working.