Small spaces, big risks
Working in confined spaces remains a potentially very dangerous activity, as evidenced by a recent prosecution in Victoria.
While working in a confined space, a worker employed by Eco Waste Services was crushed from falling bricks in a confined space. He was carrying out brick pull-down work in a 1.2-metre gap between a brick wall and a Colorbond fence.
The worker attempted to push through the fence behind him, but the bricks landed on him. As a result, he sustained serious injuries.
The investigation by the safety regulator established that there was no safe work method statement for the high-risk work to take into account the dangers posed by working in a confined space. In sentencing the company, the Court considered the need to deter others given that work in confined spaces carries inherent risks, including the potential for wall collapses, which may kill workers.
A confined space is any enclosed structure that has limited access and, due to confinement, may carry high risks for workers who work within them, such as:
- loss of consciousness, injury or death from contaminants in the air;
- death or serious injury from a fire or explosion;
- suffocation from oxygen deficiency; and
- crushing or suffocation.
If your workers work in confined spaces, there are many must dos set out in the health and safety regulations for your organisation to follow. For example, in NSW and other harmonised jurisdictions, Part 4.3 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2017 provides a number of requirements you must adhere to if work is going to be undertaken in a confined space:
- prepare a written risk assessment prior to any worker entering the space;
- ensure workers who are required to enter the space have an entry permit setting out the controls in place and the system of work;
- ensure signs are in place that prevent unauthorised people from entering the space;
- ensure there is a stand-by person continuously monitoring the conditions from outside the space, observing the work being carried out;
- establish first aid and rescue procedures, and practise them so that they are effective in an emergency; and
- ensure all workers and supervisors are provided with adequate information, training and instruction.
These control measures apply across all industries where confined spaces exist, such as tanks, pits, pipes, ducts and flues.
What should you do?
You must identify and mark clearly if there are any confined spaces in your workplace. Review your current procedures around confined spaces and make sure any work undertaken meets the above requirements. Ensure you train any workers involved in confined space work in those procedures and verify their competency. If your business is more likely to be engaging contractors to undertake confined space work, ensure that you check the contractors have completed your confined space training and only adequately trained workers enter the space.
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