Working in a confined space is a dangerous activity. Lives of staff and contractors are at risk whenever confined space working takes place. Asphyxiation from any gasses that might have escaped into the area is a real possibility. Any number of scenarios or medical emergencies may also be present when working in these spaces.

What is a confined space?

A confined space is 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 is possible.

Some examples of confined spaces are silos, storage tanks, enclosed drains and sewers. Upon first inspection, some places may not seem like confined spaces, such as vats or open-topped chambers. All present a possible hazard when working inside.

What are the dangers?

Death or serious injury can happen when working in confined spaces. And not just to the individual working in the space. Anyone attempting a rescue without the proper training and equipment is also at risk.

Work in these dangerous environments presents 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 degassed.

Flammable vapours could escape into the area, again posing the risk of fire and explosion.

Liquids can be quick to fill any confined space causing drowning.

Work in enclosed confined spaces causes any heat to be excessive. These hot conditions can lead to sharp rises in body temperature, posing a serious risk to health.

What do the confined space regulations say?

It’s important not to underestimate the dangers of working in confined spaces. Always carry out the correct assessments and put procedures in place. Staff and management should be able to follow these procedures.

The provision of a rescue team on site should be a priority. Rescue teams are competent, trained and equipped personnel who can, in an emergency situation, provide rescue and first aid.

In fact, the ‘Confined Spaces Regulations 1997’ state: “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 working in any confined space identify all hazards present or any that could possibly occur. Assess the risk that is present and what safety measures need putting in place. These assessments must determine whether there is any need to enter the space at all. If work can be successfully completed outside of the space then it should be.

If entering the space is unavoidable, safe systems of work must be in place to minimise all risks as much as possible. A trained and equipped rescue team should be there to provide a means of escape and rescue.

What happens if things go wrong?

Even after all the correct risk assessments and necessary precautions, things can still go wrong. And, if they do people may then be immediately compromised and in danger.

Only trained and equipped specialist personnel should attempt a rescue in this situation. 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 a qualified and equipped team for confined space rescue present on the job is vital.

Confined spaces are often narrow and access far from ideal for rescuers. A lot of good rescue teams will have advanced rope rescue skills at their disposal, enabling them to react quickly to a multitude of scenarios. They are able to adapt to a changing situation, assessing every development as it occurs. that occurs.

What will the rescue team do?

Entry rescues in confined spaces are planned and executed with precision. Abfad’s rescue teams often give a demonstration rescue for workers before the job commences. Giving a visible demonstration of the rescue strategy and techniques involved in an incident that could occur.

Abfad and other rescue teams come equipped and prepared for any rescue situation. They are capable of assessing the injured person and employing the correct rescue techniques needed to recover them. Putting no further lives in danger.

Rescue teams will have all the protective clothing needed for the type of confined space. Along with any necessary breathing apparatus, protective headgear, any lighting they may require, and any other safety rescue equipment deemed necessary to the situation.

Mechanical winches and tripods may be set up over the access point to assist with vertical descents. These can also aid with removal of the injured party from the space.

What can I do for more information?

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) govern confined space regulations in the UK. The ‘Confined Space Regulations’ are available from there website.

If you have a need for confined space entry you have a need for a trained and equipped rescue team. One able to respond to any incident in a professional and experienced manner. 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 worker safety should be at the forefront of every company’s ethos and operating practices.

Established in 1996 Abfad Limited provide IRATA approved rope access services. Including rescue teams for 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