Safety warning over working in confined spaces

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 2 April, 2019 - 11:30
Policy & legislation

WorkSafe Victoria recently issued a safety alert about the dangers of working in confined spaces, following an incident in which an apprentice died while working in an open-ended tanker.

A confined space means a space in any vat, tank, pit, pipe, duct, flue, oven, chimney, silo, reaction vessel, container, receptacle, underground sewer or well, or any shaft, trench, tunnel or other similar enclosed or partially enclosed structure, which meets certain conditions set out in regulation 5 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017.

The alert said working in confined spaces can be very dangerous, and some of the risks include:

·         Loss of consciousness, injury or death due to contaminants in the air

·         Fire or explosion from the ignition of flammable contaminants

·         Suffocation caused by a lack of oxygen

·         Enhanced combustibility and spontaneous combustion due to an increased level of oxygen

·         Suffocation or crushing after being engulfed by loose materials stored in the space.


When working in confined spaces, WorkSafe said employers and self-employed people should:

·         Ensure appropriate controls are in place

·         Ensure provision of adequate information, training, supervision and instruction

·         Conduct and document risk assessments before employees begin the job

·         Ensure safe operating procedures for working in confined spaces.


The alert also recommended a number of specific controls, including:

·         First, consider whether the work can be done another way without entering the confined space. For example, provide outlets and facilities for cleaning to eliminate the need for entry.

·         Test the atmosphere to quantify the level of oxygen, atmospheric contaminants and any flammable gas or vapour present in the space. Then you can determine appropriate risk controls.

·         Ensure employees do not enter a confined space unless they have been issued with an entry permit for the space, and there is a stand-by person watching the work from outside the space.

·         Establish entry and exit procedures for the confined space, and emergency procedures. Ensure these are communicated to your employees.

·         Put signs on or near any confined space, and at each entry point, to warn that only people who have been properly trained and have an entry permit may enter.

·         Ensure appropriate respiratory protective equipment (air-supplied or air purifying) is used where required.

·         Provide employees with enough information, instruction and training to do their work safely and without risks to health. This may include for example, training in hazard identification and risk control methods, entry permit procedures, emergency procedures and use of respiratory protective equipment.