Everything you need to know about working in confined spaces

Everything you need to know about working in confined spaces
The Siliconreview
06 January, 2021

Confined spaces are dangerous places. Unfortunately, some jobs in plumbing, electrics, engineering and construction require you to work in them. As such, it is important to have a solid understanding of their hazards, how to reduce these risks and what to do in case of an emergency.

To help our readers in this line of work, we have written this article today that compiles everything you need to know about working in confined spaces. Read on to find out more information.

What is a confined space?

A confined space is defined as a place which is enclosed and where serious injury can occur. Some of the most common examples of confined spaces include drains, sewers, tanks and silos. People do not normally need to enter confined spaces, but sometimes their job might force them to. For example, professionals might need to conduct maintenance checks or inspections, whilst construction workers could be building in trenches and unventilated rooms.

What are the main hazards?

If your job requires you to work in confined spaces, then there is no avoiding them. As such, you should educate yourself on all the main hazards that are associated with them. By identifying these dangers, you can put sufficient measures in place to protect yourself and prevent any incidents from occurring. So, here are the main risks that come with working in confined spaces:

  • Lack of Oxygen

It makes sense that confined spaces would have a lack of oxygen. This is mainly because they are not very well ventilated, so there isn’t a constant supply of fresh air. However, that’s not the only reason why confined spaces have a lack of oxygen. Some areas will cause chemical reactions which remove oxygen from the air. For example, if you are working in a cavern, the minerals in the soil can sometimes react to create carbon dioxide, displacing the oxygen supply.

  • Gases, Vapours and Fumes

In confined spaces where there is a lack of ventilation, gases, vapours and fumes can sometimes accumulate. This can eventually create a toxic atmosphere, making the air incredibly dangerous for workers to breathe in. As a result, they can become breathless, dizzy and nauseous. For example, if you are completing maintenance in a confined space where there has been a gas leak, then you will be breathing this chemical in.

  • Flooding

As confined spaces are so small, they can quickly become flooded with liquids. This is mainly a problem for people who work in drainage or with sewage systems. If you are unable to escape a flooding confined space in time, you could be drowned. Furthermore, flooding can destabilise the structure around, leading to collapse. This often happens in trenches, causing workers to become trapped and suffocate under the debris.

  • Dust

The poor ventilation in confined spaces can also cause dust to accumulate in these areas. For workers who are drilling in confined spaces, this can be a real issue. Dust can make it difficult to breathe, leading to short-term and long-term respiratory problems. Also, dust increases the likelihood of fires and explosions.

  • Temperature

Confined spaces have a tendency to become incredibly hot. If you are completing manual labour, then this is a massive problem. Your body heat will combine with the hot temperatures, which could lead to heatstroke, heat exhaustion or collapse. As confined spaces are quite stuffy, this doesn’t help.

  • Fires and Explosions

Fire and explosions are much more likely to occur in confined spaces because of all the factors we mentioned above. For example, the accumulation of gases and fumes in small spaces means that the slightest spark could result in an explosion. Meanwhile, equipment is much more likely to set on fire when being used in hot conditions. The list goes on.

  • Access Restrictions

Confined spaces are especially dangerous because they are difficult to access and escape from. This makes it incredibly hard to conduct rescue operations. In fact, the would-be rescuers are also in danger of getting trapped themselves. As such, caution needs to be exercised around access to confined spaces.

How do you manage the risks?

Now we have discussed all the main risks associated with confined spaces, let’s talk about managing these risks. By that, we mean putting measures in place to prevent them from happening. Furthermore, you should draft a plan which outlines what to do in case of an emergency. Here are a few examples of control measures and disaster plans that work for confined spaces:

  • Rescue Plans

As we mentioned before, access restrictions to enclosed areas mean that sometimes you might need to conduct a confined space rescue. Thankfully, there are loads of guides out there which talk you through preventing this hazard and creating an effective confined space rescue plan. Most guides recommend that employers prepare, plan and practice rescues. They also highlight the importance of auditing a job site to find different entry points to a confined space.

  • Personal Protective Equipment

To prevent your employees from inhaling the toxic fumes and dust particles in confined spaces, you should supply them with personal protective equipment like breathing apparatus. This will filter the air for them, ensuring they are taking in enough oxygen and not inhaling any poisonous substances. Also, provide them with lifelines and communication systems to help with rescues and rapid response.

  • Atmosphere Testing & Ventilating

Most issues in confined spaces arise because these areas are poorly ventilated, which allows nasty substances to accumulate in the air. That is why we suggest testing the atmosphere in confined spaces before sending your employees into them. In doing so, you can detect any potential hazards and then counteract them. For instance, if you conduct an atmosphere test and discover there are dangerous fumes in the air, you can ventilate the confined space or stop employees from entering until the issue has been properly dealt with.

This is everything you need to know about working in confined spaces. Don’t just rely on this article for information, though. Make sure to dive deeper into the hazards and consult with professionals on creating control measures, too.