Working in the trade industry will expose you and your workers to all sorts of dangers and hazards.

As an employer, it’s your duty to ensure that you provide adequate safety equipment and training to prevent serious injury and even death.

Depending on your industry, your employees may be required to work in a confined space.

The very nature of a confined space presents a number of risks to your workers.

Since a confined space, by its definition, isn’t really made for occupation of any kind, working within them can leave your employees exposed to risks not otherwise navigated in their day to day movements.

In this article, we will be exploring the risks posed by confined spaces, how to mitigate them, and your responsibilities as an employer.

Let’s dive in.

What Is A Confined Space?

According to SafeWork Australia, a confined space is defined as an enclosed or partially enclosed space that

  • Isn’t designed to be occupied by a person
  • Should be at normal atmospheric pressure
  • Anyone working within the space is likely to be at risk of an unsafe oxygen level
  • Contaminants including airborne gases, dust and vapours
  • May cause injury from fire or explosion or harmful concentrations of any airborne contaminants or engulfment.

Usually, a confined space will be found in chimneys, ducts, shafts, pits, pipes, crawlspaces, wells, and any other similarly enclosed spaces.

It should be noted that mine spaces and homes intended for human occupancy are not included in the above definition.

The Hazards Posed by Confined Spaces

Working in a confined space can cause multiple injuries, including:

  • Loss of consciousness due to toxic fumes or gases possibly resulting in death or injury from the contaminants in the air
  • Suffocation from oxygen deficiency
  • Crushing or suffocation from falling into a material like grain or sand
  • Injury or death caused by fire or explosion

Between 2000 and 2012, there were 59 confined space fatalities in Australia.

While it’s unclear how many have occurred in the decade since that report was released, there have been numerous deaths within confined spaces in the years since.

In 2018, two workers in Sarina, North QLD were found dead at the bottom of the molasses tanker they had been clearing out.

In 2017, a family died from carbon monoxide poisoning while cleaning out the water tank on their property in Gunning, Southern NSW. 

We recently covered hazardous chemicals on this blog. If you didn’t catch it, you can read it here.

How To Mitigate the Risks

As with any aspect of tradie life, the risks associated with the job can be many and varied, so your staff need to be equipped with the correct training and guidelines, and appropriate equipment before embarking on a job in a confined space.

While the legislative guidelines are exhaustive, we’ve picked a few vital safety procedures for you to consider when sending your staff to work in a confined space.

  1. Employ a Buddy System 

By its very nature, a confined space is unlikely to allow for multiple people to work within it, but it’s extremely crucial for staff to understand that they should never be entirely alone while working within a confined space.

By employing a buddy system, your workers are never entirely isolated, and the secondary person is able:

        A: look out for the person within the confined space, and

        B: call for help in the event of an emergency or incident

  1. Provide a Suitable Safety Harness

A safety harness can make all the difference when working in a confined space.

Being able to lift a worker to safety in the event of falling into hazardous materials can mean saving a life and preventing serious injury.

When purchasing safety harnesses, ensure you’re sourcing high quality gear that is designed for working in confined spaces.

Harnesses should always be certified to Australian standards, stored properly to prevent mould or deterioration, and should be thoroughly checked before use.

  1. Review Confined Space Training Before Embarking On A Job…

…particularly if your business and staff aren’t working in confined spaces on a regular basis.

It can be easy to become complacent about training and safety when you’ve been a tradie for a while.

If safety training isn’t reviewed regularly, it’s easy to assume you remember it all.

However, in an emergency situation, not having that knowledge fresh in your mind can cause you to freeze while trying to access vital information that might prevent injury or even save your life.

Making re-training in a specific scenario par for the course can help your staff remain up to date on safety information and procedures.

  1. Don’t Forget Your Permits

As with most dangerous activities, to work within a confined space requires a permit. 

It’s a formal check to ensure all safety guidelines have been adhered to before workers are allowed to enter the space.

The permit serves as a confirmation that the entry to the confined space has been checked and it’s safe to proceed.

While these tips can be helpful, you should ensure your compliance with safety regulations and laws in this area, which can be found here.
For more workplace safety tips and tricks, follow our blog, and feel free to contact us on sales@ohscompliancesolutions.com.au for a consultation.

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