If you work in confined spaces on a regular basis, such as underground sewers, tunnels, silos, and ovens, comprehensive training to ensure that you are aware of the risks and how to mitigate them is essential. You can find details of the topics that should be covered in training by visiting the Australian government’s training website, but in the meantime, this short guide will give you an idea of what you should know before working in such spaces in the future.
What You Need to Know Before Entering and Working in Confined Spaces
Before entering a confined space, you, or a suitably qualified colleague, should perform a thorough assessment that covers all the risks involved and determines how the job should be tackled.
- Decide whether entering the space is necessary: In some cases, it may become evident after assessing the scope of work that entering the space in question is not actually necessary. This, of course, is the first factor that should be considered
- Availability of oxygen: Suffocation is one of the biggest risks faced by those who work in confined spaces, so it is vital to assess the level of oxygen where the task is to be carried out and, of equal importance, whether this level is likely to drop at any time
- Airborne contaminants: The nature of confined spaces means that it is quite possible for airborne contaminants to reach dangerous levels. You need to determine if this is the case before entering a space and, if it is, to use an appropriate breathing apparatus. Both the nature and concentration of contaminants should be assessed before work commences
- Type of work to be performed: The nature of the work that needs to be carried out should of course be considered as part of any risk assessment. If the procedures that must be performed are likely to increase the risk of airborne contaminants and suffocation, it may be necessary to rethink your approach
- How to respond to an emergency situation: In the event of an emergency, you need to know exactly what to do without having to think about it. Time really is of the essence when dealing with emergencies in small spaces and there is often little to no room for error. A fire, for example, could quickly engulf you and use all the available oxygen in the process. In such a situation, you do not want to waste any time considering your next move
- Communication: It is vital to have reliable communications equipment when working in confined spaces so that you can be alerted to any dangers spotted by the team monitoring your progress from outside if necessary
With so much to consider, it is easy to see why preparation is key to performing this type of work successfully. Everybody involved should undergo thorough confined space training and must be issued with a permit before they enter a space with limited access. Warning signs should be used to ensure unauthorized personnel do not enter.