It is by no means exhaustive, but this list of 10 steps is certainly a step in the right direction for protecting you and your staff, says Lee Yearwood.
20 August 2015 | By Lee Yearwood
Two recent horrific high-profile cases of employees losing their lives working in cramped conditions highlight the need for FMs to put in place the correct steps to protect against the dangers of confined spaces.
A confined space is one that is either fully or partially enclosed and poses a foreseeable risk of fire, explosion or loss of consciousness or suffocation.
Confined spaces can occur in a range of industries including construction, manufacturing, utilities and marine work and it is thought that fatalities in confined spaces account for between 15 and 30 deaths a year.
Adequate training is clearly essential to save lives and prevent horrific accidents such as the 20ll Staffordshire case in which a worker at a food waste recycling plant was scalded to death as he tried to fix an industrial cooker. The company was fined £660,000 in June.
Managers who fail to address the issue are putting their employees' lives at risk and face losing their own liberty. Following the case in Hampshire a farm manager was jailed for the manslaughter of two workers who died in a nitrogen-filled apple container in July.
Although there is no sure-fire way to eliminate every risk surrounding confined spaces, there are a number of precautions that can be put in place to drastically limit the number of needless deaths nationwide. Follow these golden rules and you could save lives.
1. Check oxygen levels
Monitoring the atmosphere is one of the most important rules and should be done before anyone enters a confined space. Most such fatalities are the result of a problem with the atmosphere. If someone is going into a space with a limited supply of oxygen, you should provide him or her with breathing apparatus or ventilate the area as much as possible before they enter the space.
2. Ventilate to disperse fumes
If the space contains or is likely to contain noxious gases, plan for how the area can be ventilated or the gas removed before sending someone in. Forced-air ventilation is generally the most effective approach as this technique dilutes and displaces any atmospheric contaminants.
3. Use good lighting
Lighting is important, as workers cannot perform safely in an environment where they cannot see what they are doing. Loss of lighting can also provoke fear in people, which can on occasion lead them to behave in an irrational manner, causing them to injure themselves or others.
4. Competence is everything
Check whether the people carrying out the job are suitable for the work. Do they have the correct experience and training to carry out the task at hand? What training have they had? Nobody should enter a confined area if they have not received correct instruction. Lack of knowledge poses great risks to safety.
5. Keeping in touch
It is important that communication is maintained between the people inside the confined space and the people outside so that should the person on the inside need help, help can be contacted quickly and easily.
Consider positioning someone outside the space to keep watch and raise the alarm quickly should the need arise. The person outside the space will also be in a prime position to take charge of any potential rescue missions.
6. Isolate the space
Isolating the confined space will eliminate the introduction of additional hazards through other external portals. Isolation should include locking out all powered devices associated with the area such as electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic and gaseous agent fire control systems. If working in a pipe, isolation can be achieved by using blanks, disconnecting piping or with double block-and-bleed arrangement.
7. Do the workers need a permit?
A permit to work will ensure that formal checks have been undertaken to make certain all elements of a safe system of work have been put in place before anyone enters or works in a confined space. Features of a permit to work should include clear identification of who is authorised to enter the space, training and instruction in the issue of permits and monitoring and auditing to ensure the system works as it should.
8. Emergency plans
Put in place an effective contingency procedure for raising the alarm should an emergency arise. Although contingency plans will be dependent on the nature of the confined space, you should consider communications and rescue and resuscitation gear.
9. Assess risks
Conduct a hazard assessment before allowing into a confined space. Dangers identified during the assessment should be eliminated or controlled before entry.
10. Protective workwear
Make sure the worker wears personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is the last line of defence for confined space scenarios. It is a must where hazards cannot be eliminated or controlled by other means. People using PPE should be trained in its use, but it is also important for supervisors to oversee its proper operation.
Lee Yearwood is delivery manager of safety training for training and maintenance specialist Develop Training