Working in confined spaces can be inherently hazardous, with potential life-threatening risks that demand a high level of caution and expertise.
Proper confined space training is a legal requirement under the Confined Space Regulations 1997 to safeguard the wellbeing of workers and ensure compliance with relevant legislation. Read on to find out more about the significance of confined space training, the dangers of unsafe practices, and the essential UK legislation to follow for maintaining a safe working environment.
Understanding the Risks
Confined spaces are characterized by limited entry and exit points, inadequate ventilation, and potential exposure to hazardous substances. Such environments can expose individuals to specified risks such as asphyxiation from toxic gas, fumes or vapours, fire and explosion, loss of consciousness due to heat exposure, asphyxiation from a free flowing solid or drowning due to liquid. Without appropriate training, employees may lack awareness of these risks, increasing the likelihood of accidents, illness or worse, fatality.
The HSE definition of a confined space is “Any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk.”
Importance of Confined Space Training
Anyone working in a confined space must first be aware of the potential hazards associated with the environment that they will be exposed to. Training enhances workers' understanding of potential hazards, enabling them to identify risks and take preventive measures; and empowers individuals to recognize early warning signs and respond effectively to emergencies. As mentioned, it is also a legal requirement to have in-date, valid training.
Training ensures workers are proficient in safely handling specialised equipment like gas detectors, harnesses, and rescue devices.
In confined spaces, clear communication is crucial within the team. Good training will cover efficient communication protocols, discussing which communication methods are appropriate and which aren’t, ensuring team members can convey information effectively even in challenging conditions. Working together effectively in an emergency could be the difference between life and death, so learning communication best practices is an essential part of confined space training.
It is also important to understand what situations could occur in a confined space that cause an emergency to arise, and how best to deal with them according to the legal requirements, from both an employer and an employee perspective.
There are two National Standards that apply to confined space working/rescue, these are the National Classification Standards (used within the water sector) and the National Occupational Standards (low risk, medium risk, and high risk – non water standards). Our course here at PETA covers both standards.
Risks of Unsafe Practices
Failure to follow confined space safety protocols can lead to catastrophic consequences. Incidents of entrapment or asphyxiation due to lack of proper training have resulted in tragic loss of lives. Additionally, inadequate knowledge may hinder timely rescue operations, further increasing the dangers.
In addition, there is strict legislation to follow to protect workers who are engaged in confined space activities.
In the UK, the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 is the primary safety legislation to follow. Key aspects of this legislation include:
• Avoiding entry: Avoiding entry into confined spaces altogether and completing work from the outside if possible.
• Risk Assessment: If entering the confined space must occur, employers must conduct a thorough risk assessment for each task, identifying hazards and implementing suitable control measures.
• Safe Systems of Work: Employers are responsible for developing safe systems of work for confined space activities, which must be communicated to all workers involved.
• Competent Workers: Employees engaged in confined space work must be adequately trained, competent, and aware of the associated risks.
• Emergency Procedures: Employers must establish comprehensive emergency procedures and ensure workers are well-versed in executing rescue operations.
• Regular Review: Legislation requires periodic review of risk assessments and work procedures to adapt to changing circumstances.
Confined space training is a critical investment in the safety and well-being of workers. By providing employees with the knowledge and skills to navigate confined space challenges, companies can significantly reduce the risks associated with such work environments. Complying with UK legislation not only ensures a safer work environment but also demonstrates a commitment to protecting the workforce from life-threatening hazards.
At PETA, we are pleased to offer bespoke confined space training with our specialist trainer, Mikey. We currently offer Confined Space Entrant and Entry Controller training for Medium Risk Confined Spaces, and we will be expanding our Confined Space course selection in the future. Please get in touch if you have any specific training requests.
Watch our confined space training unit in action here.