Is it Safe to Enter a Confined Space? What are the Health & Safety Implications?

We have had the misfortune to be called to sites where people have died from entering a confined space. Don’t let this happen to your staff.

Why do we need to worry about confined spaces? Many organisations won’t even recognise what a confined space is. It could be something like a drain or a tank – somewhere that people can get into, and where, due to issues such as a lack of oxygen, toxic fumes or excessive temperature, they can get themselves into trouble.

Most organisations will say “Well, that’s not us – that doesn’t affect our staff.” But most organisations have drains and manholes leading to public sewers. Ian Clements, MD of Quadriga has personally stood over a manhole nine feet deep in which three people have just died.

He explains “It was an ordinary organisation and they had a blocked drain. They did what many organisations would do. They called in a plumbing contractor. The contractor arrived with a van and a team of four people. The first was only 17 years old. He went down through the manhole cover, down a ladder and put acid into the blockage. This released hydrogen sulphide – the rotten eggs gas – which at high concentrations paralyzes the sense of smell and then paralyzes the respiratory centre of the brain, causing you to stop breathing almost instantaneously. The 17-year-old collapsed.

“The next plumber looked down and thought that his colleague had fallen over. He followed him into the drain and also collapsed, due to the gas. The third member of the member thought that his two colleagues had fallen over, so he too entered the drain and also collapsed. The fourth and final plumber actually tried to enter the drain, but couldn’t physically do so because of the other people in it.

“When we arrived to carry out the technical investigation, there was one dead and two on life support machines, which were switched off a week later. That is a typical confined space accident. It can happen in any organisation. It’s tragic and it’s completely avoidable.”

Many people are unaware of these accidents and actually don’t have the systems in place to control contractors or to inform their staff. It is also vital that staff are properly briefed and that their understanding of the importance is checked. Another situation that Ian Clements has experienced was with a client who had briefed their staff on confined space hazards, but whose staff hadn’t really taken on the severity of the hazards. Some of their grounds maintenance staff were doing some work in the grounds and they came across a manhole. They opened it up and realised that underneath was a Second World War air raid shelter, which looked very interesting. It had a foot of water in the bottom of it and several of them went into the air raid shelter, which had been sealed out for years. Fortunately they got away with their exploratory trip, but it would have been quite easy for that air raid shelter to have been oxygen-deficient and two or three people would have died as a result.

People in these sorts of maintenance functions need to fully understand what a confined space is, how dangerous it can be and how to avoid it.

Watch this short video to find out what you need to do to prevent unnecessary death or injury.

If you are at all concerned about any of your staff entering confined spaces at work, please call us on 0118 929 9920 or click here to email us.

1 Comment

  1. Great post! It is indeed important to check the safety of our workers in confined spaces. Each of these spaces has risks and hazards that employee needs to address. Thus, confined space training will serve as a great help for them to be aware of possible accidents and be always safe.

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