AMSJ » The two key preparations to prevent confined space fatalities

The two key preparations to prevent confined space fatalities

Regular Training and emergency scenarios should focus on enhancing skills by exposing personnel to a variety of different situations to greatly reduce the likelihood of fatalities and injuries within the construction industry, writes Steve McLeod.

Did you review your current construction site for confined Spaces before performing work? Have your personnel undertaken training based on their specific roles related to confined space entries?

Within the construction industry workers regularly enter confined spaces such as service risers, water tanks, pressure vessels and ducting in conjunction with their daily work. Sadly confined space fatalities and injuries still occur, often due to a lack of identification and training. The only way to protect your workers from death and serious injury is to ensure that you place confined space safety as a top priority.

To reduce the likelihood of fatalities and injuries to your workers you must regularly perform confined space risk assessments and undertake nationally recognised confined space training that is appropriate to the job roles that your personnel perform.

Confined Space Identification and Job Safety and Environmental Analysis (JSEA)
Job hazard identification within the construction industry is part of daily life. However confined space work demands specific attention as confined spaces present specific hazards and risks. Australian Standard AS 2865 : 2009 Confined Spaces places the responsibility of Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment squarely on the employer or their representative. The listed objective is to eliminate or minimise the need to enter confined spaces. The only way for employers to comply with AS 2865: 2009 is to undertake confined space identification and risk assessments prior to entry.

During a recent analysis that I conducted of confined spaces fatalities within the last 10 years in Australia, I found that the major cause of fatalities were occupant(s) not understanding that the space they were working in could be classified as a confined space and therefore not understanding the consequences if things go wrong. This often led to work such as hot work, the use of petrol-driven equipment and the usage of chemicals being completed within a confined space with often deadly results.

The workplaces in which these deaths occurred were varied, however in most occasions no formal confined space identification, risk assessment, entry permit, isolation register or training was completed prior to entry. In fact the lack of understanding about what confined spaces are, what potential hazards can be found within and what control measures are appropriate could be recognised as a primary cause of these incidents.

Whilst completing a risk assessment of each particular confined space an important part of your OH&S policy, a specific JSEA should be completed by the confined space team for each confined space entry to ascertain the specific hazards and risks based on the job that you are completing.

By ensuring that the confined space team complete the JSEA together, effective control measures can be developed for each job taking into account the work that is required to be done and the specific hazards and risks that may be encountered.

Generic risk assessments of the confined space itself will not normally drastically change from year to year, however tasks that workers complete may indeed change as various tasks are performed within the one confined space. If the confined space team completes a JSEA that is ‘job based’, all hazards involved with the task should be assessed and controlled thereby reducing the likelihood of confined space fatalities and injuries.

Confined space training
Consider this: you have completed a one-day confined space entry course 18 months ago. It was a theory-based course with no practical activities and conducted in a classroom. You are now on site at a construction site in Brisbane performing maintenance work. Over the radio you hear ‘emergency, emergency, emergency, one person unconscious within a water tank.’ You attend to the site (with no Emergency Response Team (ERT) personnel at this site) and you are confronted with a setup tripod and winch, a gas detector in alarm registering 0.0% O2 and panic at the scene. You see a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus Set (SCBA) but as you put it on you are trying to remember what to do and what safety procedures to follow after spending 20 minutes training on SCBA during a one day classroom theory course on confined space entry training two years ago…

Do you feel confident to undertake a technical confined space rescue within a deadly environment after completing classroom training (no practical) for one day 18 months ago?

I thought not.

After instructing in confined space entry for over five years, I often hear prospective clients who want the ‘shortest training possible’, however if you are in the situation above, do you really think that you could achieve the desired safe outcome with less than three days of nationally recognised intensive training? Would you be confident and competent to undertake a rescue with anything less?

The selection of the type of training to be carried out must be based on the jobs that workers may be asked to perform. Will personnel be required to undertake standby duties? Will the person carry out atmospheric monitoring of the confined space? Will personnel be required to undertake the rescue of casualties from a potentially hazardous environment?

Confined space training should be considered based on the jobs you are asked to perform. Consider three days training with a balance of both theory and practical activities being the least amount of confined space training to consider for personnel who may need to perform a confined space rescue and two days (theory and practical) being the least amount of confined space training applicable for personnel who may need to perform a confined space entry, undertake gas detection and issue confined space entry permits.

Regular training is an effective control measure in the minimisation of risks for confined space operations. Regular training and emergency scenarios should focus on enhancing skills by exposing personnel to a variety of different situations. The best confined space training courses are not conducted in a classroom and are certainly not conducted over one day. The best training courses are conducted in a real work environment that exposes learners to real emergencies that may happen and prepare them for effective emergency response.

Confined Space Entry is often defined as dangerous or hazardous work, however it need not be. If organisations complete regular confined space identification, job-based risk assessments and regularly complete nationally recognised practical confined space training suitable to their jobs then the likelihood of fatalities and injuries within the construction industry will be greatly reduced.

Steven Gregory McLeod Managing Director Steve McLeod is the Managing Director and Founder of Fire and Safety Australia Pty Ltd (RTO:22250). Steve remains a confined space trainer and consultant as well as being responsible for over 20+ full-time team members. Steve’s organisation trained over 11,500 people Australia wide in 2010. Steve’s team complete hands on practical confined space entry and other fire, safety and rescue training in every state of Australia. Steve writes many articles for safety magazines and is available for comment on the contract details below.

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AMSJ Nov 2021