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Confined Space Series - What is a Confined Space?

A confined space is a term used to describe a space that is enclosed or partially enclosed, and is not intended for continuous human occupancy. These spaces typically have limited access points and poor ventilation, which can lead to hazardous conditions that can cause injury or death to workers who enter them.

Examples of confined spaces include storage tanks, silos, pipelines, sewers, tunnels, and boilers. These spaces can be found in many different industries, including manufacturing, construction, and agriculture. Even seemingly innocuous spaces like storage rooms or crawl spaces can be considered confined spaces if they meet the criteria outlined by regulatory bodies.

The simplest way to define this is to refer to the regulations:

Confined Space Regulations 1997 ‘Regulation 1: ‘Confined Space’ means any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk'.

There are therefore two features which determine if an area is actually covered by the regulations:

1. A substantially, but not entirely enclosed space

E.g. you may have a small room which could be a ‘substantially enclosed space’, but if there is no ‘reasonably foreseeable specified risk’ then the Confined Space Regulations don’t apply.

E.g. if in that same room the only access/ egress was via a small opening in the ceiling and the only means of entry was using Man Riding Equipment, there would then be a ‘reasonably foreseeable specified risk’ due to access/egress issues. This would then need to be classified as a Confined Space.

Remember two rules about the Confined Space:

Rule No.1 – Does the Confined Space have to be entered?

Rule No.2 – If so, then a Risk Assessment must be carried out.

The dangers associated with confined spaces can vary depending on the specific environment. In some cases, toxic gases may build up within the space, leading to respiratory problems or even asphyxiation. Other hazards may include lack of oxygen, extreme temperatures, or the risk of entrapment or collapse.

In order to keep workers safe when working in or around confined spaces, it is important for employers to conduct a thorough risk assessment before allowing entry. This assessment should identify any potential hazards and determine what steps need to be taken to mitigate them. Workers who are required to enter confined spaces should receive specialized training and be equipped with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and breathing apparatus.

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