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Working within confined spaces is a dangerous activity, putting the lives of staff and contractors at risk of injury or asphyxiation from any gasses that might have escaped into the area, as well as any number of additional scenarios or medical emergencies that may be present when working in these conditions.

What is a confined space?

A confined space is classed as any space of an enclosed nature where any danger of death exists, this could be from lack of oxygen, exposure to hazardous substances or gasses, or some form of serious injury exists from the conditions present. Some examples of confined spaces would be, silos, storage tanks, enclosed drains and sewers. Some places, upon first inspection, may not seem like confined spaces initially, such as vats or open topped chambers, but all present a possible hazard to the worker inside.

What are the dangers?

Death or serious injury can happen not just to the individual working in the space, but also to the people who attempt to carry out any rescue without the proper training and equipment.

Work in these dangerous environments present many opportunities for serious injury or death, lack of oxygen can occur leaving the worker unconscious and in severe danger of suffocation, gasses and fumes can quite easily build up in these spaces causing asphyxiation, certain kinds of storage tanks pose a risk of fire or explosion if not properly de-gassed, flammable vapours could escape into the area, again posing the risk of fire and explosion, liquids can quite quickly fill the space causing drowning, and of course work in enclosed, confined spaces causes any heat to be excessive and these hot conditions can lead to sharp rises in body temperature, posing a risk to health.

What do the regulations say?

It’s important that the dangers of working in confined spaces not be underestimated, the correct assessments should be carried out, procedures should be put in place and followed by staff and management, including having a rescue team, such as those provided by Abfad Limited and other specially trained companies, in order to have competent and qualified personnel on site that can, if something disastrous happens, be in position to provide rescue and first aid.

In fact the ‘Confined Spaces Regulations 1997’ state that “no person at work shall enter or carry out work in a confined space unless there have been prepared in respect of that confined space suitable and sufficient arrangements for the rescue of persons in the event of an emergency, whether or not arising out of a specified risk”.

Before work in any confined space is carried out all of the hazards present, or that could possibly occur, should be identified fully, assessing the risk that is present and what safety measures need to be put in place. These assessments must determine whether there is any need to enter the space at all, if work can be completed successfully outside of the space then it should be. If entering the space is unavoidable, then safe systems of work must be put into place to ensure that all risks are minimised as much as possible, and a means of escape and rescue is provided by fully trained and equipped rescuers.

What happens if things go wrong?

If things do go wrong, even after all the correct assessments of risk have been carried out and the necessary precautions taken, people may then be immediately compromised and in danger.

Only fully trained and equipped specialist personnel should attempt a rescue in this situation, as any ill prepared attempt to rescue someone from a confined space only serves to put more lives in danger, nearly two thirds of all deaths occurring in confined spaces are attributed to unprepared people trying to perform an urgent rescue.

Regulation 5 of the ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’ say “you must make suitable arrangements for emergency rescue which will depend on the nature of the confined space, the risks identified and the likely nature of an emergency rescue. You should not rely on the public emergency services.”

Having the correct persons, qualified and equipped for confined space rescue, present on any type of job where confined space entry takes place is vital. Spaces are often narrow and access far from ideal for rescuers, which is why most good rescue teams will have advanced rope rescue skills at their disposal, enabling them to react quickly to any situation that occurs.

What will the rescue team do?

Entry rescues in confined spaces must be planned and executed meticulously, Abfad Limited’s rescue teams often provide a demonstration rescue for workers before the job commences, this gives personnel a visible demonstration of the rescue strategy and techniques involved for any incident that could occur.

Abfad and other rescue teams come fully equipped and prepared for any rescue situation, once in position they are capable of assessing the injured person, employing the correct and safe rescue techniques needed to ensure the injured party is recovered and no further lives are put in danger.

Rescue teams will have with them all the protective clothing needed for the type of confined space, along with any necessary breathing apparatus, protective headgear, any lighting that they may require, and any other safety rescue equipment deemed necessary to the situation. They will also, more often than not, wear a full body harness attached to a safety line. To assist with vertical descents, mechanical winches and tripods may be set up over the access point, these can aid with removal of the injured party from the space.

What can I do for more information?

In the UK confined space is governed by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) and the ‘Confined Space Regulations’ are available from there website.

If you have a need for confined space entry and require a highly trained and equipped rescue team, able to respond to any incident in a professional and experienced manner, then contact a company, such as Abfad Limited, and they can provide you with first class personnel able to carry out this vital and necessary role.

Ensuring workers safety should be at the forefront of every company’s ethos and operating practices.

Abfad Limited have been established since 1996 and provide IRATA approved rope access services, including emergency rescue and safety cover for other people working at height or within confined spaces. For more information click here.

Injured worker being secured into stretcher  Injured worker being winched to safety

 

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