Hazards of confined space
Fatalities attributed to confined space working are still significant. There are many studies and statistics available. According to data collected there are approximately 90 fatalities every year in the US and 15 in the UK. Approximately 40% to 60% of those fatalities involve attempted rescues. Confined space fatalities can be prevented by establishing an effective confined space system and following procedures.
Some of the hazards attributed to confined space atmospheres are, flammable gases, oxygen deficiency, oxygen enrichment and combustible dusts. But there are also other hazards that may be present, such as electrical/mechanical equipment, visibility, noise, temperature and claustrophobia.
Confined spaces are hazardous and dangerous. It is important that we take reasonable precautions in or around them, which includes rescue operations.
Many employers and employees fail to recognise the characteristics of confined spaces, which affects the decision making process and the failure to impose proper safeguards.
Employers need to recognise confined spaces and provide the training/competencies required for employees to evaluate the presence and hazards of confined spaces.
Confined spaces can be defined as any place, such as a chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or other similar space in which, by the nature of its enclosure, there are risks identified within the enclosed space.
Employees need to be competent in confined space operations and trained according to the risk. Managers/supervisors require competence in formulating risk assessments, method statements, safe systems of work and issuing of permits.
Training should also include the requirement for emergency arrangements to be in place, which includes the rescue and first aid of casualties.
Legislation and regulation differs by country, but provides an approved code of practice and guidance for those who work or control work in confined spaces.
In the UK there are legislative requirements that employers should adhere to such as the “Health and Safety at Work Act 1974” where they are required to provide information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure the health and safety at work of employees. This shall include specific training for working in confined space and an awareness of the regulations covering the need to enter, understanding of the work to be undertaken, the hazards, and the necessary precautions; understanding of safe systems of work, and ‘permits-to-work’; along with an understanding of emergencies and emergency arrangements
The confined space regulations 1997
The regulation cover a wide range of subject matter and guidance for employers to follow, some of these include:
- Definition and examples of confined space
- Associated hazards
- Provide risk assessments that identify the hazards and risk to workers, and the control measures required
- Preventing the need for entry unless it is not reasonably practicable to achieve the purpose without entering
- Safe working in confined spaces and the precautions that should be included in the safe system of work
- Main elements to be considered in a safe system of work, and procedures to be adopted for a ‘permit-to-work’
- Emergency procedures and arrangements, types and nature of the rescue, recovery of casualties from a confined space and the provisions to support emergency arrangements
- Type of plant and equipment for use in confined spaces
- Size and openings to enable safe access to and egress from confined spaces
- Respiratory protective equipment should be suitable for the purpose
- Other equipment may include ropes, harnesses, fall arrest gear, lifelines, first aid equipment, PPE etc.
- Maintenance of equipment to ensure that it is ‘maintained in an efficient state, in efficient order and in good repair’
- Examination and testing as per manufacturer or supplier’s instructions also the frequency and type of examination
- Training we should look at in more detail as this is the important factor to reduce fatalities with in confined space working
It is therefore important that training meets the requirements of the regulations and legislation. It is not simply a case of sending employees on a “Confined Space Course” to tick a so called box. It is the quality and content of the training course that is paramount in ensuring that employees are deemed competent.
Regulations give guidance on training and what should be taken into account i.e. practical use of equipment and safety features, identification of defects and, where appropriate, it should involve demonstrations and practical exercises. Employees should be familiar with the equipment and procedure that their company employs before working in confined spaces.
Where applicable employees who may be involved in any emergency rescue should be trained for that purpose, dependent on their role or responsibility. This type of training should include: use of rescue equipment, emergency procedures, rescue techniques and exercise, shut down of process plant procedures, First Aid and equipment including regular and periodic exercising.
Courses should meet the occupational standards of industry with clear defined learning outcomes and the knowledge criteria to meet those learning outcomes.
To ensure that employees are competent in confined space operations, the assessment processes should be both practical observation and written test to confirm understanding of knowledge.
Training should be on-going with a natural progression through confined space training dependent on the risk involved and the role in which the individual partakes. The level of the course and the assessments should reflect this.
Standardisation of courses for employees will ensure that there is consistency in communication, training and assessment.
Employers should ensure that the training they provide staff with is suitable and sufficient for the tasks in hand. CPD’s (Continual Professional Development) records should be set up and recorded to demonstrate the employee’s competence and record of training. As I have mentioned earlier with on-going training it is also important that refresher training is undertaken to ensure that skills and knowledge are refreshed, it also provides a means to update employees with any change or revision in regulatory standards.
Employers should ensure that training providers have the minimum of equipment and facilities to meet standards required for the qualification being taught. For example a Confined Space “Emergency Rescue” course require the appropriate equipment for the Risk and the Emergency Rescue.
Although the equipment and facilities will be generic, they must still be suitable and meet any design specification required.
The facilities must be able to provide simulated confined spaces covering a range of scenarios, including vertical entry and travel, horizontal entry and travel, various access openings, some with ability to demonstrate and practice lifting/lowering. As well as reflecting types of entry and travel distances the simulator should also be capable of simulating sensory perceptions (reduced visibility, noise/hearing, moving in restricted space).
PPE must meet regulatory standards and be appropriate for the course but should include: Coveralls, Gloves, Footwear, and Head Protection.
Suitable RPE-Escape Breathing Apparatus-Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (Full Duration)-Airline or Trolley Units with Breathing Apparatus Control Boards.
Other equipment should include Detection/Testing and Monitoring Equipment, Ventilation Equipment, Chemical Suits, Tripods, Fall arrest block/winch, Harnesses, Ropes/Slings/Lines, Lamps/Torches, First Aid & Rescue Equipment and casualty simulators. As you can imagine this list is not exhaustive, but highlights the equipment that may be required to provide quality training for employees to be assessed as competent in working with confined spaces.
It is also important that training staff are suitably qualified, i.e. hold current instructional and assessing qualifications, have relevant experienced and technical knowledge in confined space operations.
So it is important that employers ensure that training providers can provide a selection if not all of the above, dependant on the course requirements.
We know there is a risk to workers in confined spaces and fatalities are still occurring. We have regulations that highlight controls measures and Safe Systems of Works that protect workers
Employers have a responsibility to ensure that they provide all employees with quality training and instruction relevant to their role and responsibilities in confined space operations.
For more information, go to www.thefiretraininggroup.com