There are many potential circumstances in which an employee may be required to enter a confined space. While working within enclosed areas is at times unavoidable, workers within these locations often face significant risks to their health and safety.

Whether conducting work within a tank, tunnel, chimney or similar enclosed space, individuals experience unique occupational risks because these areas are not generally designed for human inhabitation. Specific hazards present within confined spaces include unsafe oxygen levels, engulfment and inhalation of atmospheric contaminants.

This is why it is vital that any person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) is required to ensure their employees have adequate supervision, confined spaces training and access to personal protective equipment (PPE) whenever required to enter an enclosed work environment.

The Safe Work Australia Confined Spaces Code of Practice lists "information, instruction and training" as one of the key factors in protecting occupational health and safety (OHS) standards in a confined space.

In particular, training must cover five important competencies:

  • What hazards are present within a confined space?
  • Why is risk control important and how can you implement these measures?
  • What PPE is appropriate and how you can fit, use, store and maintain these devices
  • Understanding and working under the restraints of an entry permit
  • How to respond to an emergency

Individuals working in any industry that may require them to enter a confined space as part of their occupational undertaking should access confined spaces training. 

Due to the diverse nature of enclosed spaces in the workplace, many sectors and occupations could be at risk. In particular, the following four industries may benefit the most from relevant training and OHS practices.

Agriculture

Confined spaces are found frequently in farms and other workplaces within the agriculture industry. Common examples of areas in which an employee may be required to enter include silos, grain storage, water tanks and manure pits.

Serious OHS risks are present in each of these locations and more, according to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. In particular, the most significant hazards to employee wellbeing are oxygen deficiency, carbon monoxide build up, airborne organic contaminants, poisoning and suffocation.

Many of the materials, stock and equipment used in or around confined spaces can contribute to these hazards. For example, grains and other organic matter can absorb oxygen within silos, leading to difficulties breathing in silos and storage tanks.

Confined spaces training is an important factor in improving the health and safety of agriculture workers. Additionally, all duties carried out within enclosed areas should include the use of protective equipment, atmospheric testing and the employment of a stand-by person who can raise the alarm is an emergency were to occur.

Mining

The mining industry is one of Australia's largest employers, with around 267,000 individuals working in mining and related services, according to Mining Australia.

Unfortunately, many workers will sustain an injury while employed in this industry. A few employees will even perish during the course of their occupational undertakings. In fact, a recent report from Mining Australia shows that miners die more frequently in Australia than in Iran.

Iran, a country with approximately 5,600 operational mines, reports one miner dies every 16 days across the country's resources industry. Comparatively, Australia's 446 mines have seen 12 workers die so far this year.

With just 180 days passed before hitting a dozen fatalities, this means one mining employee dies every 15 days in Australia. 

Out of these deaths, a significant number were caused by cave-ins while one worker succumbed to fumes within a confined space. The frequency of these fatalities occurring could have reduced if risk assessments were conducted by trained individuals and supervised by qualified management staff.

Freight and storage

When working in the freight and storage industry, it is vital the employees understand the risks of transporting and working in close quarters with hazardous materials.

Ships' holds, freight containers and truck tanks are just three examples of the kinds of confined spaces those employed in this industry may be required to enter.

In many cases, it is vital that PPE devices, such as atmospheric monitors and breathing apparatus are available for employees. In addition to providing workers with this equipment, it is also important to ensure individuals can correctly fit, use and maintain these devices.

Construction

Whether working in residential construction or civil works, those employed in this industry may be required to enter confined spaces during the undertaking of their duties.

Common confined spaces found in this sector include crawl spaces, drainage or sewerage pipes and trenches. A variety of OHS risks can be present in these areas, such as unsafe oxygen levels, engulfment and wall collapse or cave-ins.

Minimising the risk of injury or death within the construction industry is an important objective for all employers, as this sector accounts for approximately 9 per cent of the total Australian workforce and 11 per cent of all workers' compensation claims, according to Safe Work Australia.

Any PCBU operating within the construction industry needs to access confined spaces training for all employees who may be required to enter a confined space. Additionally, supervisors or stand-by personnel responsible for those within a confined space should also be offered the same training.

If you're working in one of these industries, or would like more information on improving OHS outcomes in any of these sectors, get in touch with AlertForce to access nationally recognised confined spaces training today!

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