WORKPLACE SAFETY

Hazards in Confined Spaces – How Aware of These are You?

Working in confined spaces is much more dangerous than most people imagine. Unfortunately, working in certain industries such as mining usually requires working for sustained periods in such conditions.

While working in tight spaces is hazardous even with proper training, a huge problem is that often adequate confined space training has not been carried out. This problem becomes even more serious when the person concerned is not even aware they are working in a confined space. For instance, a person cleaning the underside of a skylight can be considered to be working in a confined space if his head is fully within the curve of the skylight, although few people would think to classify his work in that manner. Here are some of the most common hazards faced when working in confined spaces.

Air quality

One of the most palpable hazards associated with working in confined spaces is the poor quality of air as it may contain insufficient oxygen or poisonous substances that can have startlingly immediate effects on the worker. Natural ventilation alone often cannot be relied upon, and measures must be taken to ensure the worker is able to obtain sufficient oxygen and stays protected from harmful substances, such as through the use of dusk masks or filters.

Fire hazards

While a fire can have devastating results in any enclosed space, in confined spaces the dangers are multiplied significantly. Confined spaces not only expose workers to far greater dangers from smoke and heat than would be usual in an indoor area, but also limit their means of escape. For these reasons all aspects of fire safety must be considered carefully in order to minimise as much as possible all risks of fire.

Crushing or trapping hazards

When working underground, the slightest shift in the ground can be deadly. Crushing or trapping hazards must be removed as far as possible, and all workers must be equipped with personal protective equipment such as hard hats, protective gloves and safety goggles.

High noise levels

High noise levels in confined spaces can be far more damaging than they are in wide open spaces. Employees working in locations such as power stations and rail road lines are at particular risk of sustaining serious hearing damage and should be equipped with protective equipment such as ear plugs and ear muffs. In addition, all workers’ exposure to sustained noise should be limited as far as possible.

Working in confined spaces is dangerous business, and this is made worse when workers are not aware of the scope and magnitude of the dangers that they and their colleagues face. All workers should be educated as to the dangers they face when working in confined spaces and taught how best to avoid them. Only when all workers are kept informed can they work together to keep each other safe from the various hazards they face on the job each day.