Planning Entry and Working Safely In A Confined Space

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Planning Entry and Working Safely In A Confined Space

Confined spaces have been likened to a serial killer. Year after year, people die when entering confined spaces to carry out work. In some cases, multiple fatalities occur when would-be rescuers enter the space and become victims themselves.

A man was killed when he was engulfed in a silo containing sand.

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Two men were hospitalised after inhaling hydrogen sulphide. One man was cleaning inside a tank that previously stored a substance for cultivating mushrooms. When he lost consciousness, the second man climbed in to rescue him before also losing consciousness.

Three men died from lack of oxygen inside a sewer.

A man drowned in slurry after being suffocated by fermentation fumes in a tank used to mash pig feed.

A winemaker inspecting a vat was suffocated by fumes from fermenting wine.

A man steam cleaning the inside of a fuel tank died from lack of oxygen.

About this quick guide

Confined space work is covered by an Australian standard: AS 2865 Confined spaces.

This quick guide will give you a brief overview of the requirements and procedures in the standard. It is not a substitute for the standard itself.

Anyone who carries out confined space work needs to be familiar with the standard, and should have specialist training as well.

What is a confined space?

A confined space:

  • is an enclosed or partially enclosed space and
  • is not intended or primarily designed for human occupancy and
  • may present a risk from one or more of the following at any time: unsafe concentration of harmful airborne contaminants
    • unsafe concentration of flammable substances
    • unsafe levels of oxygen
    • substances that can cause engulfment, and
  • may have restricted means for entry and exit.

Examples include: storage tanks, tank cars, process vessels, boilers, silos, pits, pipes, sewers, shafts, ducts and shipboard spaces.

What does the standard require?

The standard follows the approach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA). It requires persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to:

  • identify the hazards associated with working in the confined space and conduct a risk assessment
  • control the risks posed by the hazards by:
    • elimination
    • minimisation, including using personal protective equipment (PPE).

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Identifying hazards and assessing risk

The standard gives detailed information on hazard identification and risk assessment.

Some of the hazards of confined spaces include:

  • Oxygen-deficient atmospheres, which can cause unconsciousness, brain damage and death.
    • Oxygen deficiency can be caused by rust, fire, absorption by grain or soils, consumption by bacteria, or displacement by another gas.
  • Toxic atmospheres, containing gases, vapours, dusts or fumes that have poisonous effects on the body. Cleaning, painting or welding may produce dangerous vapours and fumes.
  • Flammable or explosive atmospheres, containing flammable gases, vapours or dusts which could be ignited by a spark or open flame. The risk of explosion or spontaneous combustion is increased if an oxygen-enriched atmosphere exists (where the oxygen content is greater than 23.5%).
  • Engulfment – workers can be trapped or buried by bulk materials such as grain, sand, flour, fertiliser and sawdust.
  • Operation of moving parts, eg being trapped or crushed by augers, mixers, agitators or conveyor belts).
  • Uncontrolled introduction of steam, water, or other gas or liquid.
  • Other hazards could result from the work being done (eg noise, extremes of temperature, radiation, manual handling and falls).

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