Having consistent workplace training is one of the most important things a business can implement. It does not matter which line of work you’re in – training should be required for growth, safety, and employee progression.
Some professions have an increased risk of danger, so always make it a top priority to evaluate the area of work. Working with confined spaces can cause a long list of potential hazards for employees; being adequately prepared can be a matter of life or death.
High-risk industries such as construction, mining, and transportation require employees to work in confined spaces on a very regular basis. A confined space can take shape in the form of a chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or similar space with an enclosed nature – many of which can be found within those high-risk industries.
It’s important to outline the risks in your line of work to determine whether your workforce would benefit from confined space training, or any additional health and safety training that’s relevant to working in confined spaces.
It might sound obvious, but it’s paramount that a workplace understands exactly what a confined space is. Some spaces of work are small, but by law, they might not qualify as a being ‘confined’.
A confined space is typically defined by the following characteristics:
- An area that that limited means of entry and/or exit
- Somewhere that is large enough for a person to enter and perform a task
- Space is not designed for continuous occupancy
If any of these statements describe the type of work that your employees perform, it could be time to reassess any current methods of training, think about the kind of activities you perform day-to-day that might relate to confined spaces, or implement some important required-by-law training for your workforce.
Employees must be aware of the dangers that face them when working within confined spaces – equipped with the knowledge on how to look for hazards and how to respond quickly in dangerous situations.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) describes the potential dangers and features that can prove fatal.
A confined space may have the following:
- Contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere
- Contains material that has the potential for engulfing the entrant
- Has an internal configuration that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls, or by a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section
- Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazards
OSHA has also reported that asphyxiation is the leading cause of death from working in confined spaces. This is due to a lack of oxygen or from the exposure of toxic atmospheres.
They have also suggested that employees have died due to non-compliance with industry-standard training, opting to use improvised or ‘traditional methods’ instead – and thus failing to use common sense to their advantage.
Therefore, it’s continuously emphasized that having a fully trained workforce will save lives and better manage the health and safety of themselves and those who work close by, especially in emergency situations.
A risk assessment should always be carried out to determine the level of risk when attempting to enter or work within a confined space. Being aware of the potential hazards can help preparations for what kind of dangers you might face, or alternatively if the risk of danger is far too high to attempt to carry out a job.
As an example – ways of determining great risks can be shown by using a video camera to look before entering or possibly testing the air to see if it’s free from harmful toxins. If you were to then find the quality of air to be damaging, employees will be required to wear adequate breathing apparatus as protection.
A thorough and thought-out confined space risk assessment should aim to highlight the following:
- The duration of the work
- What kind of tasks are to be performed?
- The training requirements of the employees
- What kind of physical effort is required?
- Whether the employees are physically well enough
- How many employees will be involved – inside and outside the confined space, and rescue teams
- Environmental factors should also be considered – including, access, lighting, oxygen levels, and evacuation procedures
These risk assessment steps are aimed towards predicting potential dangers and minimizing risks when a job is carried out. Risk assessments help to carry out a safe system of work and are used within many, if not all, hazardous industries. A method statement can also be carried out prior to a job.
Method statements detail exactly how a job will be executed in order, highlighting safety and detailing how a safe system of work will be performed. It will usually give some background information about the job, who will be working at the site and how steps will be implemented throughout the duration.
Adequate confined space training will mention how these can be written out in an advantageous way. Method statements aren’t mandatory, but they provide another way of assessing and planning situations.
What You Can Learn on a Confined Space Training Course
Confined space training courses should offer practical and written assessments for employees to learn about the various hazards and safety procedures that are involved.
A well-equipped training center can offer a mobile training unit for practical assessments, giving the opportunity to learn how to properly enter and exit confined spaces.
High-risk equipment is often provided to emulate an authentic confined space situation, this allows trainees to experience what it would be like to work within realistic and hazardous conditions.
Training courses can range from low risk confined spaces to high risk, tailored to the line of work you are in and what dangers you would face within the line of work.
Managerial training is also vital, as these are the people responsible for the employees entering potential dangers. In this case, you can expect the training to involve the use of environmental monitoring equipment, documentation associated with confined space entry and an emphasis on dealing with hazards.
Regulations and standards can depend on the country the confined space work training will be taking place in. The training course you choose must be compliant with any relevant legislation to be law-abiding and should be in partnership with a recognized examination board.
Without these qualifications, you should never attempt to enter this line of work for your safety and others. In the UK, the Confined Space Regulations 1997 exists to make sure that there is a safe system of work in place.
Entering a confined space must be planned beforehand with emergency arrangements in place with resuscitation equipment. In the United States, the previously mentioned OSHA provides the guidelines for maintaining safe work environments ‘by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance’.
Training should be given to everyone that is involved in the process of confined space working.
This includes workers who –
- Enter or work within confined spaces
- Issue entry permits
- Implement risk control measures
- Monitor conditions while work is being carried out
- Acts as a standby person with those working in a confined space
- Buy equipment for confined space work
This is important to remember, as it’s not just those entering the confined spaces that need to be trained and this could be something that’s forgotten about.
The obvious benefit of providing confined space training is keeping your workforce safe – but another key factor in business is saving money.
Accidents that happen in the workplace often equate to time off, costing the company’s money in sick pay. Taking the time to train your staff might be costly, to begin with, but spending money on something as worthwhile as employee training is likely to save thousands in the long run.
Training your staff encourages leadership and confidence – with common sense being one of the most useful health and safety tools it’s important to give employees this kind of recognition. Showing that your employees are valued by enrolling them in training can give them incentives to stay with your company on a long-term basis. Not only this, but legislations, laws and industry requirements often change, meaning regular employee and employer training must be up to date with modern-day business needs.
Confined space training is not only taken by businesses; industries such as farming should have a trained workforce as they enter manure pits or water tanks on an often-daily basis.
You should think carefully about the tasks your industry carries out either regularly or non-regularly, as it can be easy to forget that yourself and others are entering potentially dangerous confined spaces if it’s part of a long-standing routine.
If any of this sounds like the industry you’re involved in, it could be time to double-check if your workplace training is up to date, whether a refresher course is needed if it’s been a while since you last trained, or maybe your workplace has no training at all – make a point to contact your local training provider.