Confined Spaces: Inherent Risks of Confined Spaces

Confined Spaces: Inherent Risks of Confined Spaces

15th April 2020

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a confined space is a space which is substantially enclosed and where there’s a high risk of serious injuries from hazardous conditions or substances inside the space or nearby. There are several cases of injuries and deaths that occur in confined spaces reported every year in the UK. Mining and sewage industries usually record the most cases. You need efficient access tools such as fixed access ladders to safely access most confined spaces.

Types of Confined Spaces

Examples of confined spaces include wells, vessels, boilers, sewers, pipelines, tanks/hoppers, silos, storage bins, sumps, and pits/ditches/trenches. Each one usually carries with it some nature and degree of risk worth noting and planning on minimising the risks. Below are some of the common inherent risks involved.


  1. Lack of Oxygen

We need oxygen to sustain our lives. Depleting oxygen levels can cause the victim to suffocate, which can become fatal when prolonged. Confined spaces usually experience low levels of oxygen due to reasons such as reactions between soil and atmospheric oxygen and the presence of other hazards. Chemical reactions between elements such as limestone and chalk can result in the formation of carbon dioxide, which may displace oxygen. In the case of a confined space being a lorry, a freight container, or a ship’s hold, the cargo may react with the oxygen inside, causing the levels to drop to a dangerous degree.


  1. Toxic Exposure

Just like with oxygen, poor air quality is also a major concern in most confined spaces. There’s a high risk of exposure to poisonous vapours, gases, and fumes. Unfortunately, risks in the air can be colourless, odourless, and tasteless, which makes it even more dangerous as the workers may be unaware of the dangers. Efficient methods of detection, such as hand-held gas detectors, should be used to detect unsafe conditions in confined spaces, allowing adequate time to ventilate or evacuate.


  1. Fire and Explosion

Fire and explosions can occur as a result of flammable vapours or excess oxygen levels which can promote ignition. The consequences can be fatal in confined spaces, hence the need to minimise the risk as much as possible. The flames can result from the by-products of the work taking place, such as residue and dust, coupled with the addition of a spark. Such risks can pose an immediate threat and can result in death within minutes.


  1. Liquids and Solids

Confined spaces can be suddenly filled with water, sewage, grains, and debris, risking the lives of those working in the area. The space could collapse causing exits to become blocked, which may force the workers to become trapped. These circumstances can compromise the victim’s escape, putting their lives at risk.


  1. External Threats

Most people often tend to focus on combating the threats within confined spaces as far as health and safety are concerned. However, tasks carried out directly above the confined spaces can also pose serious risks for those beneath the surface. For instance, vibrations from equipment and machinery above the area may cause debris to fall inside the space, which could result in head injuries if it falls on those working in the area. A blockage can also occur outside the exit of the confined area without the awareness of workers inside. This can pose an imminent threat to the workers, especially if they find themselves in an emergency situation.