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functioning of the brain and reduce a person’s ability to respond to his or her environment. Oxygen levels below 16% puts employees at risk of unconsciousness or even death. Conversely, excess oxygen presents a serious threat to workers too. Excess oxygen can be caused by leaking equipment and levels over 23.5% increases the risk of fire, particularly in clothing.


OR VAPOUR Boilers and tanks, activities such as painting, cleaning with degreasers or solvents, chipping off rust, steam cleaning and disturbing sludge can all release poisonous gases, fumes and vapour into the room, creating a dangerous confined space. These gases can be identified using correctly specified atmospheric testing equipment. Consideration should be given to the possibility of gases trapped which may not have been identified by initial atmospheric testing and may also be disturbed and released by someone working in the confined space. Toxic gases, fumes and vapours may contaminate the confined space from the outside, such as from nearby processes or vehicle exhaust fumes.

FLAMMABLE SUBSTANCES Flammable and combustible

materials should not be kept in confined spaces unless as part of the work. When required, amounts of flammable material should be kept to a minimum and stored is appropriate containers. Where there is a possibility of flammable substances

being present in a confined space then suitable equipment, including electrical equipment, will have to be specified to eliminate risk of a spark or ignition source.

EXCESSIVE HEAT Heat can come from industrial

units, such as boilers or ovens that have not had sufficient cooling time before entry. It can also be caused by the use of steam cleaners or high pressure hot water jetting systems. Inadequate ventilation or the lack of chilled ventilation can exacerbate the heat problems in confined spaces.


DIMENSIONS These can be hazardous simply because they can make the way in and out of a confined space difficult to negotiate and make movement inside restrictive. In many buildings spaces between walls, such as where cables and pipeworks are run, may slope inwards or curve and create small spaces that can be difficult to move around in, so it is important to be aware of the structure of the building and have the necessary precautions and tools at hand before entering the confined space.

SAFETY TRAINING Once the hazards and risks have

been assessed, the development of a safe working system is essential. It is worth reminding anyone managing confined space working that the first consideration should be identifying a method of doing the work remotely, rather than entering the space. One element of providing a safe working

system that is often overlooked is employees with adequate training in confined space entry, which is absolutely crucial. Employers have a legal duty to ensure that a safe system of work is implemented and realistic training should be provided to those working in confined spaces. Specific training for work in confined spaces will depend on an individual’s previous experience and the type of work they will be doing.

It is likely that training will need to cover the need to avoid entry to a confined space, understanding of the work to be undertaken, the necessary precautions that must be taken, understanding safe systems of work and what to do in emergencies. Training should also take into account the practical use of safety features and equipment and involve demonstrations and practical exercises to help participants fully understand the training. Managers and area supervisors, general supervisors, confined space operatives, standby personnel, rescue personnel and anyone involved in confined space risk assessment will need training before working in confined spaces. Consideration should be given to the need to refresh/renew the training periodically, particularly where operatives are not entering confined spaces on a regular basis.


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