Training, in addition to proper instruction and adequate information, are key when helping to protect workers that need to enter confined spaces as part of their contract. What are the most affected industries and what are the risks found in each?
While this might not be considered to be one of the 'riskiest' industries in the world, agriculture tasks nevertheless pose serious challenges to workers in confined spaces. For example, employees may be required to enter water tanks, silos, grain storage areas or manure pits. In each of these locations, an employee could face risks associated with lack of oxygen, airborne contaminants, the invisible killer carbon monoxide or suffocation. Grains, in particular, are known to absorb oxygen within these silos, which could lead to breathing difficulties quite quickly. This is why one of the most important tasks is to ensure atmospheric testing for entry and the use of protective equipment.
Mining, of course, is known as a 'risk' occupation, but that does not mean it should present insurmountable challenges to workers in confined spaces. The big risk factor here is a crush injury caused by cave-ins, although workers remain susceptible to the inhalation of fumes in these confined spaces. Qualified experts need to conduct proper risk assessment in all mine working environments.
Storage, Freight and Transportation
In the transportation industry, truck tankers, freight containers and ship holds are three dangerous locations when it comes to working in confined spaces. Employees must be given the correct protective clothing, as well as monitors to check on the atmosphere such as PPE (personal protective equipment) devices.
Employees working in civil engineering or residential construction are often required to enter confined spaces in order to do their duties. These may include entering sewer pipes or drainage areas, crawl spaces and trenches. At any time there is a risk of wall collapse, unsafe oxygen levels, engulfment or cave-ins.
The Onus Is on the Employer
Employers need to ensure that they are providing confined space training to all of their employees who will at any time be asked to enter into such a space. Not only that, but those who are in charge of supervising these employees, even if they don't actually enter confined spaces themselves, should also be required to take the same level of training.
Key questions to ask include:
- What hazards could be expected in a confined space?
- How can risk control measures be implemented?
- What personal protective equipment is needed and how can these devices be fitted, maintained and stored?
- How do we implement an emergency response plan?