Confined Spaces: The Risks and Effective Control Measures

Since time immemorial, people have been working in closed areas above and below the ground. Such closed areas are known as confined spaces.
A confined space is an enclosed place. It includes vessels, tanks, containers, pits, chambers, cellars, and other such places. While some confined spaces are easy to identify, others are less obvious, like ducts and combustion chambers.

Characteristics of a confined space:
Some of the qualities that define a confined space are:

  • Enclosed area.
  • Risk of at least one hazard from elements like flame, gas, or high temperature.
  • Risk of serious injury requiring emergency action or rescue.

Hazards of a confined space:
Some hazards include:

  • Lack of oxygen: The level of oxygen in a confined space can be low due to reactions in the environment. Low oxygen can result in asphyxiation. This can lead to rapid heartbeat, fatigue, nausea, collapse, and other serious issues.
  • Gases and fumes: Confined spaces can contain many poisonous gases and fumes. They can make a person lose his/her consciousness and also lead to many respiratory issues. Gas leaks in confined spaces can occur due to a burst gas pipe or while working.
  • Flooding: Working in confined spaces close to a sewer system or drainage can lead to flooding. Confined spaces can be compact and hence, lead to flooding. This can make it difficult for people to escape.
  • Dust: Dust can accumulate in confined spaces. It can further develop if there are activities like grinding or drilling occurring in space.
  • Fires and explosions: Flammable materials in a confined space can increase the risk of fire and explosions. This can turn out to be riskier if people use tools that generate sparks in the confined space.
  • Temperature: A confined space creates a hot and stuffy environment to work in. This can be a serious issue if the heat results in heatstroke and exhaustion.
  • Access: Confined spaces are difficult to access. They also make it difficult for people to escape.

Control measures
It might not be possible for a person to avoid working in a confined space. But with certain control measures in place, he/she can cut down the threats posed.

  • Atmospheric testing can help identify the air quality and risks in a confined space.
  • Shutting down a plant while working in confined spaces can help reduce the destruction of machines and property, in case of fire or other issues.
  • Workers must isolate all equipment from the confined space to avoid the destruction of materials.
  • To reduce the threat of confined spaces, organizations can clean the space. They can also ensure better ventilation before allowing the workers to enter.
  • It is important to train the workers on different safety measures to take in a confined space.
  • Organizations must provide their workers with lamps, torches, and a few other extra lightings. This will allow the workers not to strain their eyes too much.
  • Confined spaces have minimal oxygen. Breathing apparatus can help the workers in a confined space.
  • The tools used by the workers in a confined space must not produce any spark. Sparks can trigger a fire or an explosion in a confined space.
  • Workers need to have access to communication tools that are wireless and work in confined spaces. This will help them to reach out to others in case of an emergency.
  • Proper training related to handling confined spaces can help workers prepare for all the possibilities and risks.
  • Employers need to supervise and track the training and performance of workers in a confined space.
  • Mock drills can help workers understand rescue procedures and other arrangements.

Working in a confined space can be highly risky if there are no safety measures in place. Organizations dealing with confined spaces need to assess the risks and develop relevant measures. Sign up at World of HSE to discover more!

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