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

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

Confined space risk assessments are essential to workplace safety, as they help identify potential hazards and dangerous conditions before work is carried out within confined spaces. This article will look at the key elements to consider when putting together a safe system of work for confined spaces to ensure the safety of personnel and minimize any potential risks.

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 how a task should be carried out to ensure that it is undertaken safely.

The SSOW should consider the risks 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 tools or equipment should be set up and operated.

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

In a confined space, injuries are likely to be more severe and the injured person(s) more challenging to rescue – so it is important to work safely, and the surest way of communicating essential information is through 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 forced venting be used, or is there sufficient natural venting
  • Removal of Residues – Is there existing material, such as sludge, that needs to be taken out first
  • Isolation from Flowing Material – Is there protection against material flows, are these locked off
  • 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 minimize 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 that pose an ignition risk are not near 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 minimize 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

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 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?


Confined spaces can be hazardous places to work and must be entered cautiously. Careful planning must be undertaken in order to identify any potential risks so that they can be avoided or controlled. When carrying out a risk assessment, it is important to consider all of the potential hazards that could be present. This includes the contents, oxygen levels, residues, structure and layout of the space, contamination, sources of ignition, and flammable substances that could be present. It is also essential to consider what is outside the space that could pose a risk and appropriate isolation of any plant or equipment.

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One Comment

  1. It’s good that you talked about how important it is that all possible risks associated with the hazards of confined space entry are properly assessed and controlled so that there will be no problems in carrying out the task. I imagine if you work rescue services that require you to enter confined spaces, you should get proper training for it to be prepared. I’ll keep this in mind if I ever need confined space entry training in the future.

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