Key Elements Of A Safe System Of Work For A Confined Space

Key Elements Of A Safe System Of Work For A Confined Space

Safe System Of Work for a Confined Space?

The safe system of work for any given task is a formal procedure, laid out as a step by step set of instructions that documents the way in which a task should be carried out to ensure that it is undertaken safely.

The SSOW should take into account the risks that have been highlighted in the risk assessment, and clearly state how the control measures from the risk assessment will be used or implemented to keep the workers and the environment safe throughout the project. It should also detail how any tools or equipment in use are to be set up and operated.

A simple example would be if a hard hat has been specified as a control measure in the risk assessment. Make sure that this is clearly stated in the safe system of work that a hard hat is part of the work crew’s personal protective equipment (PPE).

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In a confined space, injuries are likely to be more severe and the injured person(s) more difficult to rescue – so it is important to work safely and the surest way of communicating essential information is through the use of a written safe system of work.

For confined spaces, there are 20 points that, if each is carefully considered and accounted for, will produce a robust SSOW

Supervision – how will the job be managed

Competency – are those doing the work suitably trained

Communications – how will accurate messages within the team be certain

Testing the Atmosphere – is gas detection equipment required

Gas Purging – does the vessel require flushing with an inert gas

Ventilation – should be forced venting be used, or is there sufficient natural venting

Removal of Residues – is there existing material, such as sludge, needs taking out first

Isolation from Flowing Material – is there protection against material flows, are these locked off

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Isolation from Electrical/Mechanical – is all live power isolated that should be

Selection and Use of Suitable Equipment – ensure the entrants have the correct equipment to carry out their work task safely, consideration needs to be given as to whether intrinsically safe equipment is required

Personal Protective Equipment – do the entrants require specific PPE to ensure their safety

Gas Cylinders and Combustion Engines – have these been correctly isolated, including consideration for exhaust fumes if they will remain active

Gas Supplied by Pipes – are there any gas supplies in the area that require protection or isolation

Access and Egress – how will entrants get in and out of the confined space safely, particularly in an emergency

Fire Prevention – what is being done to minimise fire risks, including suitable fire safety equipment

Lighting – what is being done to ensure the entrants can see suitably, area lighting and task lighting

Static Electricity – is this a hazard and what steps can be taken to prevent static build up

Smoking – ensure that smoking areas which pose an ignition risk are not near to the worksite

Emergency and Rescue Arrangements – how will the entrants get out of the confined space safely in the event of an emergency, will it be self-rescue or is a standby rescue required

Limiting Work Time – do the conditions mean that working time should be limited to minimise worker fatigue, e.g. very warm environment or cramped working conditions

The key elements to be considered when drawing up a safe system of work are:

  • Competence, training, supervision and suitability
  • Permit-to-work procedure
  • Gas purging and ventilation
  • Dangerous residues
  • Testing and monitoring of the atmosphere
  • Mechanical, electrical and process isolation
  • Respiratory protective equipment
  • Other personal protective equipment
  • Safe use of work equipment
  • Communications
  • Access and egress
  • Flammable or explosive atmospheres
  • Combustible materials

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What must I look for in a confined space risk assessment?

When carrying out a risk assessment it is important to ensure that all risks associated with the hazards above are evaluated and controlled. When carrying out a risk assessment the following questions should be asked:

What could be the space that would pose a risk?

–    Contents?
–    Oxygen Deficiency?
–    Previous Contents?
–    Oxygen Enrichment?
–    Residues?
–    Structure and Layout?
–    Contamination?

What will be created due to the work carried out in the space?

–    Sources of Ignition?
–   Flammable Substances?

What‘s outside the space that might pose a risk during the proposed work?

–    Inadequate Isolation?
–    Inadvertent Operation Of Plant?
–    Nearby Work Activities?

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What is a Permit-to-work Procedure?

A permit to work procedure is a means of achieving effective control of a system of work through formal written documentation known as a permit to work form.  The essential components of a permit-to-work system include:

A written procedure, which sets out how the system is to operate and clearly defines who may authorise particular jobs and who is responsible for specifying and implementing the necessary precautions

A form, known as the “permit-to-work form”, which becomes a written and signed statement ensuring both the establishment of safe conditions for the work to commence and the maintenance of safe conditions for the duration of the work, including the provision of emergency arrangements

A method of informing the persons carrying out the work of the exact identity, location, nature and extent of the job, the hazards involved and the precautions to be taken, and

A system for ensuring the safe hand-back of the workplace after the job is completed and, in the case of confined space entry, after space is vacated


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