Know the steps: key elements of a confined space procedure

3M Safety & Graphics

By Ash Mayor*
Monday, 04 November, 2019



Know the steps: key elements of a confined space procedure

There is a lot to consider when working within or managing confined spaces.

Do you know where your confined spaces are? What are the hazards in those spaces? How can you control those hazards to allow work to be done safely? Who will be able to do the work and how much training do they need? Do you need specialised equipment? Will you need respiratory protection or breathing apparatus? How will you determine if the atmosphere is safe?

There are many people involved in planning for work inside confined spaces. Those roles could include; the workers involved in performing hazard identification and risk assessments; those who will be entering the space; the stand-by person who will monitor the workers while they are in the space; the competent person who will have over-all responsibility for all aspects of the entry; the permit issuer; those responsible for performing isolations of plant and equipment including sources of potential stored energy; the workers responsible for testing atmospheres; those involved in sourcing equipment to be used in the confined space work and any workers who may be involved in performing rescue from confined spaces.

As confined space work can be quite involved and contain many different hazards, it is essential that all those who may be involved with any of the aspects relating to confined space work have training which is appropriate to their role. This training can range from a confined space awareness course, through to entering and working safely within confined spaces, gas testing atmospheres, operating breathing apparatus or performing confined space rescue.

  • Investigate — Prior to any work being performed you will need to establish whether a space fits the definition of a confined space. The WHS / OHS Regulations, Australian Standards and Code of Practice all provide clear definitions of what constitutes a confined space.
  • Prepare — Implement the control measures to reduce the risks. Develop a confined space management plan and work procedures to be followed by all workers that will be involved in the work.
  • Enter and work in the confined space — Work in accordance with the issued permits and any specific work procedures relating to the task or site.
  • Rescue plan — Any work which involves entering a confined space is hazardous and we must have an effective plan for rescue of the workers.
     

Let us break these down a bit more.

1. Investigate

Once you have assessed the space and the work to be performed you can then identify the hazards, assess the risks, develop control measures. This will all become part of the confined space management plan and form the basis of developing more specific work procedures. Proper planning is essential to working safely in confined spaces.

2. Prepare

This should include ventilation of the space, testing the atmosphere for oxygen levels and potential hazards, perform isolations of hazards, complete permits and gather equipment which will be required for accessing and performing the work.

Additionally, prior to work commencing, the competent person should also ensure that any workers who will be involved in the work have current suitable training for entering confined spaces and are competent and fit to perform the required tasks.

3. Enter and work in the confined space.

An effective communication system must be in place and should enable communication between the workers in the space and the stand-by person who is continuously monitoring the workers. The stand-by person must continuously monitor the workers in the space and have the ability to raise the alarm in the case of an emergency, and if able, initiate the rescue procedures.

Continuous monitoring of the atmosphere should also be done while work is occurring in the space.

Work in confined spaces may also require specialist tools and equipment such as being intrinsically safe so as not to provide an ignition source, or the use of specific respirators for the hazards detected.

4. Rescue plan

Any work involving confined space entry needs to have a rescue plan which has been developed, tested to prove that it will be effective, rehearsed to ensure those likely to perform the task are competent and confident to perform the role, and implemented into the confined space management plan. Workers should have training to ensure they are proficient in all required elements that may be encountered with their particular type of confined space work, and the competent person should ensure that those workers are fit for the duties they may be required to undertake.

Other considerations

  • How can we determine our confined space requirements on our site? What training will be required? Who will need to be trained? What equipment will need to be sourced? How could we provide a rescue of our workers?

*Ash Mayor is Training Specialist at 3M.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/phonix_a

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