Working in Confined Spaces

11 March 2021

Employers must not take health and safety responsibilities lightly. You have a legal duty to protect the employees, customers, and members of the public on company premises.

Failure to take the right precautions can prove dangerous. Hazards when working in a confined space can cause injuries, disabilities, or even death. 

No workplace is without its hazards and risks. However, the dangers of working in confined spaces are arguably more dangerous.

Flooding, fires, and asphyxiation are just a handful of these dangers.

Legally speaking, finding a failure to take precautions can lead to fines and even criminal sentences. Naturally, these are significantly higher in the event of hazards causing harm to employees, customers and members of the public.

Unlike employment tribunals, health and safety breaches are a matter for the criminal courts. This means they carry harsh sentences. 

When working in confined spaces, health and safety is essential for employers to consider. Peninsula explains why and how to ensure it.

Working in confined spaces legislation

Employers must create safe work in confined spaces. There is legislation that serves to guide employers in minimising working in confined spaces risk.

The general legislation that discusses confined space workplace safety is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. However, there is precise legislation for health and safety with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Health and Safety at Work Regulations require employers to carry out suitable assessments of the risks in their workplace. These assessments must review all work activities and identify any risks or hazards present in the workplace.

More specific for confined spaces is the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997. This legislation states that employers must avoid entry to confined spaces and have emergency arrangements to support a safe system of work.

An employer’s assessment must decide what measures are necessary for safety. For confined spaces, employers must identify the specific hazards they present. Once you assess these, you must determine the appropriate precautions to take.

The Confined Spaces Regulations also apply to working on the entrance to confined spaces from the outside. Employers must install any required measures before any work begins within the confined spaces. 

Method statement for working in confined spaces

Understanding health and safety when working in a confined space is essential for employers. Method statements for these workplaces cover potential hazards and control measures for working in confined spaces.

  • Action: involve external experts in any rescue effort planning. These include medics, first-aiders, and emergency response teams.
  • Hazards: conduct risk assessments for any workplace of an enclosed nature. These assessments must identify any risks of death or serious injuries.
  • Areas: restrict access to confined workplaces, including a safe system for confined space entry.
  • Procedures: create permit-to-work passes strictly for competent employees. Test that the workplace is safe and features adequate alarm systems in case of emergencies.
  • Emergency procedures: ensure all parties involved, including employees and emergency responders, fully understand specific plans for rescue attempts.

Employers' health and safety responsibilities are not difficult to understand. Usually, employers simply need to understand which health and safety rules apply to their workplace and industry.

You should distribute health and safety responsibilities among several different employees. This can include managers or HR staff, which makes it easy to lose track of who is doing what.

Risks of working in confined spaces

Employers must consider the risks employees face when working in confined space working environments. Work safety is always essential, so consider the risks associated with working to help employers protect their employees.

The hazards of working in confined spaces are:

  • Noxious fumes: workplaces with hazardous substances may contain noxious fumes and toxic gases. Employers must consider how to ventilate or remove these.
  • Highly Flammable and Explosive Substances and their residues
  • Flooding liquids or gases: whether it’s via liquids like water or gases, must if there is a risk of liquids or gases, employers must ensure liquids or gasses are controlled with valves that can be locked shut.
  • Electricity: a workplace at risk of electrical exposure requires insulation or specific PPE (personal protective equipment) to protect employees.
  • Lack of Oxygen: confined spaces may have a risk of employees not having access to enough oxygen to breath. If this applies, employers must provide a breathing apparatus for employees. Alternatively, the workplace must feature ventilation so that normal atmospheric oxygen levels in the workspace are maintained.

When addressing the dangers of working in confined spaces, employers must also make sure employees can continue to work safely. 

How to work in a confined space

If an employee requires them, an employer must provide PPE. This is true if a workplace has any hazardous substances.

Employees should not work in confined spaces unless it’s essential to the role. The same applies to having other employees enter a confined space. Others should not enter unless it is safe for them to do so.

Employers must also consistently check the risks within these workplaces. This is because even if a confined space is safe during one inspection, it may still have risks.

Expert support on working in confined space with Peninsula

Handling work in confined spaces presents challenges and risks for employers. Failure to protect employees can result in criminal charges and punishments.

This is where the expert support Peninsula offers helps.

Employers can get health and safety advice at any time with the 24/7 Peninsula health and safety advice line. We also offer a 24/7 employment law helpline for comprehensive legal advice. Call us today at 0800 028 2420 for personalised advice.

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