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Confined spaces

Confined spaces are commonly found in vats, tanks, pits, pipes, ducts, flues, chimneys, silos, containers, pressure vessels, underground sewers, wet or dry wells, shafts, trenches, tunnels or other similar enclosed or partially enclosed structures, when these examples meet the definition of a confined space in the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012.

A confined space is determined by the hazards associated with the specific situation, not just because work is performed in a small space.

A confined space does not include a mine shaft or the workings of a mine.

If possible, if you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) you should eliminate the need for people to enter a confined space. Entry to a confined space is considered to happen when a person’s head or upper body enters the space.

Hazards of confined spaces

A confined space poses dangers because it’s usually not designed to be a place where people work. It will often have poor ventilation which allows hazardous atmospheres to quickly develop, especially if the space is small.

Workers may be:

  • overcome by fumes
  • trapped in an area where rescue is difficult
  • engulfed (for example by earth in a trench or grain in a silo).

A sparking electric tool or even just static on a person could cause a fire or explosion.

Training

You must provide your workers and their supervisors with suitable and adequate information, training and instruction so they have the skills and knowledge to understand:

  • the hazards associated with working in a confined space
  • the contents of any confined space entry permit
  • the control measures implemented for their protection
  • the means of effecting a rescue.

You must provide training or refresher training appropriate to your workplace. The frequency of this training depends on how often workers are required to carry out tasks associated with entry to or work in confined spaces. There is no such thing as a confined space licence, however workers must be able to show evidence they have completed training.

Entry permits

A confined space entry permit is developed by a competent person and provides a formal check to ensure a safe system of work is in place before people are allowed to enter the confined space.

It also ensures:

  • communication between site management, supervisors and those carrying out the work
  • the PCBU has checked and authorised the entry to the confined space and it is safe to proceed.

Emergency procedures

You must:

  • have first aid and rescue procedures in place
  • make sure workers practise these procedures
  • initiate first aid and rescue procedures from outside the confined space as soon as practicable in an emergency.

You must ensure:

  • entry and exit openings are big enough to allow emergency access, and kept clear
  • any plant, equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided for first aid or emergency rescue are maintained in good working order.

Construction work in or near a confined space

In addition to the requirements above, construction work in or near a confined space is defined as ‘high risk construction work’ and will require you to prepare a safe work method statement and communicate it to all relevant workers (including contractors).

Resources and solutions

Airborne contaminants

Confined spaces code of practice

Safe work method statements (SWMS)

Updated: 29th October 2019