Working in Confined Spaces

11 March 2021

Sometimes working in confined spaces is unavoidable in order for your business to run successfully and efficiently. However - this type of work comes with serious health and safety risks.

There are numerous hazards that come with working in a confined space, all of which are a threat to an employee's health. Failure to keep your employees safe can lead to serious injury or even death.

In this guide, we'll discuss what a confined space is, the hazards that come with these areas, and the regulations you must follow.

What is a confined space?

A confined space is an enclosed area of any size where there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury from hazardous substances or dangerous conditions.

These spaces tend to be substantially enclosed meaning many specified risks to health are heightened.

In order to ensure you're managing any work required in confined spaces correctly, it's crucial you understand the common examples.

Examples of a confined space

There are many examples of confined spaces which are common in businesses across the UK.

Such as:

  • Storage tanks and silos.
  • Enclosed drains, sewers and manholes.
  • Ship and cargo holds.
  • Cold storage rooms.
  • Open-topped chambers and chambers in furnaces.

Due to the enclosed nature of confined spaces, there are a range of potential hazards that come with working in these areas - which both you and your employees need to be aware of.

Storage units.

What are the main confined space hazards?

Working in confined spaces comes with a variety of health and safety hazards. You have a responsibility to fully understand each one in order to keep your employees safe during any confined space work.

Below are the main hazards which can be found when working in confined spaces.

Toxic atmosphere

A toxic atmosphere can build up in confined spaces due to the presence of hazardous substances. These types of substances can be released from the following:

  • The use of fire or flames.
  • Materials being left in the space from previous use.
  • Being released from brickwork as a result of work.
  • Fumes from different processes, such as welding or painting.

Hazardous substances in the air can cause serious health problems such as impairment of judgment, unconsciousness, body temperature loss or even death.

Oxygen deficiency

Working in confined spaces can lower oxygen levels to dangerous levels, which could lead to a high risk of serious health problems.

Oxygen levels can dip in confined spaces due to naturally occurring reactions, such as:

  • Certain soils and oxygen.
  • Groundwater, chalk or limestone can produce gases such as carbon dioxide which can replace oxygen.
  • Rust from inside tanks.

As well as oxygen deficiency, there's also a risk of heightened oxygen levels. Oxygen levels must be at safe limits before work can commence.

Oxygen enrichment

A sudden rise in oxygen levels heightens the chance of explosions and combustion in confined spaces working.

The following are examples of a rise in oxygen that you need to be aware of when working in confined spaces:

  • Leaking oxygen cylinders.
  • A faulty pipe connection.
  • Incorrect disposal of liquid gases.

Flammable atmosphere

Flammable substances, vapours, liquids and gases found inside confined spaces can cause a serious risk of fires and explosions.

The following pose a foreseeable risk of explosions during confined space working:

  • Using hot tools.
  • Processes such as welding.

Free-flowing solids

They can be a major hazard to someone working in a confined space. A free-flowing solid can cause asphyxiation due to being trapped underneath them.

Examples of a free-flowing solid is:

  • A pile of grain, sugar or flour.
  • A pile of sand, coal dust, gravel or soil.

If you're storing high amounts of free-flowing solids, ensure they're stored correctly and raise awareness of the risks to your employees.

Excessive heat

Temperatures can rise quickly in confined spaces and put anyone inside at serious risk of illness. Employees working in a confined space are at risk of:

  • Heat stroke.
  • Heat exhaustion.
  • Heat cramps.

Man using a grinder.

What are the confined space regulations in the UK?

In the UK, employees are protected for any work carried out in confined spaces under the following legislation:

  • Confined Spaces Regulations 1997.
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

The confined spaces regulations apply to any work required in confined spaces and as an employer, the legal responsibilities stop with you. This means monitoring any tools or electrical equipment required for the work.

As an employer it's your responsibility to ensure the legislation is adhered to at all times, failure to do so can lead to a negligence claim being made against you.

What are the confined space entry regulations in the UK?

Under the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997, employees are protected from entering a confined space to work unless absolutely necessary.

The regulations state "No person at work shall enter a confined space to carry out work for any purpose unless it is not reasonably practicable to achieve that purpose without such entry."

However sometimes working in confined spaces can't be avoided, so you must take safety actions before starting the proposed work.

How do you manage hazards in confined spaces?

In order to ensure any employees work safely within a confined space, it's vital you manage the hazards correctly.

The following are actions you must take to make sure you have a safe system in place.

Conduct a confined space risk assessment

Undertake a risk assessment to make sure all safety precautions are in place before any of your employees enter a confined space.

The process for carrying out the risk assessment is as follows:

  • Assess the task: Thoroughly assess the work that'll take place step by step.
  • Hazard identification: Identify any hazard within the confined space.
  • Control measures: Install any control measures, such as personal protective equipment.
  • Identify training requirements: If the work will be on a regular basis, enroll your staff on working in confined spaces course.
  • Create emergency rescue procedures: Make a clear policy for what happens if an employee comes to harm.
  • Monitor the safety system: Ensure you monitor the progress and make changes if required.

Install a ventilation system

Ensure you have a quality and in order ventilation system within any confined spaces. Failure to do so can mean toxic gases can stay present which can cause serious health issues such as skin irritation and breathing difficulties.

Ventilation systems can help to increase oxygen levels, which'll lower the risk of your employees suffering health problems.

Provide confined space training

Confined space training is extremely important, as adequate preparation is key to ensuring employee safety at all times.

Enroll your staff on accredited courses for any confined spaces training. Once training is completed, keep a record and ensure all parties sign it.

Provide your staff with personal protective equipment

You have a legal requirement to provide your staff with breathing apparatus and other personal protective equipment before work can start in confined spaces.

It's your duty to make sure your employees know how to wear the equipment correctly, consider sending them on a training course if they're unsure.

Make emergency arrangements

Ensure you create arrangements in case of emergencies and communicate them with your staff in case the worst happens.

These arrangements should include:

  • How to raise the alarm.
  • Where the resuscitation equipment is situated.
  • When to ring the emergency services for an emergency rescue.
  • An overview of all emergency procedures.

Receive advice on working in confined spaces with Peninsula

As an employer, you have a duty of care to provide your employees with a safe space to work, and this includes when working in a confined space.

It's vital you conduct a risk assessment and take the relevant safety measure if you require confined space work. Failure to get it wrong could lead to a negligence claim being made against you - but even worse, it could lead to serious injury.

If you require any advice on working in confined spaces or can't find the relevant confined space training course to enroll your staff on - contact us. We can advise on the legal requirements and ensure your staff are working safely.

Peninsula offers 24/7 Health & Safety advice which is available 365 days a year. Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 029 4376 and book a free consultation with one of our Health & Safety consultants.


Suggested Resources