Confined Spaces

People usually think of working at height as only being a risk when working above ground. But you don’t necessarily need to be up high for a fall to occur. Falls from the ground to a level below, even ones inside an existing structure are equally high risk, especially in areas which are not designed for human occupancy and maybe have ingress/egress limitations. As such, the definition of what is, or isn’t, a confined space is not so clear cut.

Confined space environments come in a variety of guises including vats, tanks, pits, pipes, chimneys, silos, sewers, shafts, wells, pressure vessels, trenches and tunnels.

The Work Health and Safety Regulations 2001 (the WHS Regulations) and the Australian Standard 2865-2009 Confined Spaces have very similar definitions of a confined space.

The Regulations define a confined space as an enclosed or partially enclosed space that:

Working in a confined space is a high risk activity and the potential for incidents resulting in fatalities are compounded by the nature of the hazards present. Examples of the key risks include the potential lack of oxygen, high temperatures, explosive environments and the risk of airborne contaminants including gas, fumes and vapours. Other hazards include the risk of engulfment in flood waters, sewerage, grain, smoke or dirt from a trench collapse

So it is often more expedient to assume a space is placed in this category and manage the hazards accordingly rather than underestimate the risk and be left with safety compromised workplace.

Training & Equipment

So it is often more expedient to assume a space is placed in this category and manage the hazards accordingly rather than underestimate the risk and be left with safety compromised workplace.

Confined Space Equipment

Manufacturers

There is an expectation that confined space equipment manufacturers design and engineer their products to meet the unique needs of the discipline and for them to be approved to the relevant Australian Standards, or to a recognised ISO alternative where AS/NZS does not apply (eg EN, ANSI, OSHA).

Despite AS/NZS Fall Protection Standards not being mandatory, there is a very strong impetus for specifiers and users of fall protection equipment to reference this certification as key selection criteria when deciding upon confined space or working at height solutions. This reference point helps mitigate the risk of incorrect product selection, and with an emphasis on user self-regulation, risk management requires a strong merit-based justification when creating a suitable safety solution.

The alignment to Standards, and by default best practice, assists companies to demonstrate a commitment to providing a safe work environment for their workforce based on a recognised and supported framework and reinforces their intention for their workers to be using the safest products for their needs, and of course in accordance with local requirements. These Standards are often referred to in Codes of Practice adding currency to their importance and increasing their alignment to legislative compliance despite a lack of direct reference in Legislature or Regulations.

The WAHA community includes several manufacturers as founding Member Companies who actively demonstrate their commitment to the industry, safety and towards to the objectives and philosophy of the Association. The WAHA recognises and supports those manufacturers who aim to comply with product and other quality Standards as well as the relevant Industry Codes (existing and in development) to improve the design and quality of PPE, engineering design, usability, installation, and training, across all facets of the industry.

WAHA Member Companies who are Manufacturers undertake an internal Self-Audit annually to maintain their status within the Association. Via this process these companies are able to demonstrate and verify that the products they manufacture meet the requirements of the WAHA (based on Australian Standards principles) which is also supported by their existing quality system certification (ISO etc) and their commitment to applying product approvals as per the relevant Standards.

Distributors

Most manufacturers choose to supply product through a distributor network utilising their reach, experience and expertise to best support customers in their regions. These distributors are in turn supported with ongoing training and development from the manufacturer to facilitate a strong understanding of the features and benefits of each product which in turn helps with the specification process based on the customers’ specific needs. Specialist distributors of confined space and fall protection equipment work closely with end-users in the selection and specification of equipment and can often facilitate demonstrations, presentations, equipment trials and product training to assist in the process.

Contact your preferred equipment manufacturer to locate a distributor suitable for your needs, or alternatively, visit our Members page to find your local WAHA Member Company.

(General Guidance for Employers)

(1) Assess the risks

An experienced operator with the right training, knowledge and skills must prepare a written assessment covering all the possible risks with regards to entering or working in or near a confined space. That person needs to review and revise this risk assessment regularly to allow for any environmental or workspace changes that might affect safe work. This risk assessment should include:

(2) Use a permit

Before someone enters a confined space, there must be an authorised entry permit (written by a competent person and signed off by a supervisor/safety officer) that includes:

The permit applies to one space only, but it allows one or more workers multiple entries. The permit must be managed day-by-day as the work environment (climate, other works etc) may change affecting the risk profile of the job.

When the work is finished, ensuring the document confirms that everyone has left the space safely and the area is left in a safe condition.

(3) Erect signs and barricades

Prominently display signs near the confined space entries banning entry to anyone not listed on the entry permit. Also, install locks and fixed barriers.

(4) Communicate with and monitor those inside

A stand-by person/sentry must continuously monitor the conditions inside a confined space from outside the space where they can observe the work being carried out. There must be a suitable entry and exit procedure in place, be able to maintain communication with the team at all times, and a clear and effective emergency procedures when the need arises. The stand-by person must never enter the space to attempt a rescue.

(5) Isolate services

Minimise or, if you can, eliminate risks resulting from any plant or services connected to the confined space. Also, prevent contaminants entering the space through pipes, ducts, vents, drains, conveyors and the like.

(6) Make sure the air is safe

Clean the air in the space regularly, keep it well ventilated, safely purge any contaminants, and carry out atmospheric testing before anyone enters. Use an appropriate respirator/oxygen supply (SCBA or airline) if you are unable to maintain safe oxygen levels.

(7) Get rid of ignition sources

Get rid of all ignition sources that could cause a fire or explosion. Ensure the amount of flammable gas, vapour or mist in the space is less than five per cent of its lower explosive limit (LEL). If the LEL is greater than five but less than 10 per cent, you must use a flammable gas detector and if the LEL is greater than 10 per cent, no-one should be in the space.

(8) Have emergency procedures

Your workplace must have good first aid and rescue procedures, and you need to practise them.

Make sure openings in the space are large enough to allow emergency access and are not obstructed. Also, make sure appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), like air-supplied respiratory equipment, is made available to workers carrying out emergency tasks.

Finally, keep plant, equipment and PPE in good working order.

(9) Train your workers

Your workers and their supervisors must understand the risks of a confined space, the controls that are in place, what they need to do and what a permit allows.

(10) Keep records

Keep a copy of your risk assessment for at least 28 days after the work in the space has finished and keep a copy of the permit at least until the work is completed. If there is an incident in the space, keep the records for at least two years.

Keep a record of worker training for two years.

These records must be made available to us and any worker upon request.