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Working in confined spaces: Six general safety regulations you need to know

by , 01 April 2015
Confined spaces fall under specific regulations since the risks they impose on health and safety are higher than those in a different space. Today we're going to look at what you can do to keep your employees safe when working in confinded spaces.

But first, let's understand what make a confined space so risky

When it comes to a confined space (or an enclosed space), you should know that this is any area where:

• Your employee's body movement is restricted;

• There's only one access point or your employee has limited means of access;

• Your employee has to work with tools and equipment in a restricted space; and

• A limited space where a hazardous substance may collect or where the air loses oxygen. (OHS Act, General Safety Regulation 5).

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Here are a few examples of confined spaces:

• Chambers;
• Tunnels;
• Pipes;
• Pits;
• Sewers;
• Containers

Let's look at the six general safety regulations you need to know for working in confined spaces

#1: Test the air quality

You should only let employees enter a confined space after you test the quality of the air. You need to make sure it is safe to breathe and that the air doesn't contain any flammable mixture. A competent person who has been trained in air testing and is registered with the DoL must test the air in the space before you can let employees go in. This is the person who must say the space is safe and will stay safe while your employee's inside. This testing, evaluation and statement must be in writing (General Safety Regulation 5.1).

#2: Purify and ventilate

In this step, you're responsible for ventilating and cleansing the confined space of any hazardous or flammable gas, vapour, dust or fumes. You can do this by purging. i.e. cleaning the bad air with good air. Consult a specialist and follow their advice (General Safety Regulation 5.2).

#3: Maintain a safe atmosphere

Once you ventilate and clean the confined space, you must maintain a safe atmosphere. Give your employee an air testing device that sets off an alarm if the oxygen levels become dangerous. Make sure there's a continuous flow of clean air into the confined space. Or give your employees breathing equipment (PPE) approved by the Chief Inspector of the DoL (General Safety Regulation 5.3).

#4: Have help at hand

Keep in mind that you must give your employees the right breathing equipment and a safety harness with a rope. Someone outside the confined space must attend to the free end of this rope.

You must also have a person trained in resuscitation outside the confined space. Keep extra breathing and rescue equipment outside the confined space in case you need to rescue anyone (General Safety Regulation 5.3).

#5: Blank off pipes or ducts

Note that all pipes, ducts, etc. that may leak into the confined space must be blanked off to prevent any leakage or seepage. You can blank the opening off by putting in a plate with seals inline or at the end of a pipe. This prevents any flow of liquid or gas (General Safety Regulation 5.3).

#6: Take roll call

Ensure all employees leave the confined space when the work is complete (General Safety Regulation 5.4).

Warning! Note that if there's flammable gas in the confined space, don't let anyone work close to the flammable atmosphere until you clear it.

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