Working in confined spaces is not something pleasant – there are many health and safety risks. As a result of the many risks it poses, it was rightly defined as a HRW (High Risk Work), which requires all workers to hold specialized licenses prior to engaging in this type of work.
Confined spaces are basically spaces with a confined space entry. This means that the space can only be accessed through a small entrance, and is otherwise isolated from other spaces. Therefore, under this definition, places like underground cellars, dungeons, catacombs or mining shafts, and also septic tanks, boilers or other similar fluid containing vessels are categorized as confined spaces. Among the many risks posed by such confined spaces, the most common are:
• The low availability of oxygen – this can be caused when biologically or chemically active decaying matter is present, or when air is absorbed by surrounding metals.
• The presence of excess oxygen – excess oxygen is by no means safe. Not only does it increase the flammability of all nearby objects, but very high levels of oxygen gas also disrupt respiratory processes.
• The presence of toxic gases – toxic gases can lead to impairment of bodily functions (i.e. loss of sight, loss of hearing, etc.), and in extreme cases, even death. Toxic gases may be released as a result of fires within the enclosed space; may seep from either underground or chemical wastes present; or additionally, they may even be created during the work process.
• The presence of flammable gases – flammable gases are those gases which are prone to catch fire. Like toxic gases, they may either seep from underground or active wastes, or be produced during work operations.
• The presence of an increasing volume of liquid – this means that flooding is occurring within the confined space, which could lead to drowning of individuals or even burns and other injuries, depending on the type of the liquid.
• The presence of powders or a free-flowing solid – similar to the above point, free flowing solids can cause suffocation of individuals by blocking airways; solids in powder form can create flammable environments and also cause asphyxiation.
Any confined space with even two of the above mentioned risks (and other possible significant risks), usually requires a confined space entry permit to access the area. Furthermore, additional risks can come into factor during work operations itself – such as noise, heat or vapours which can be generated by the utilized machinery or equipment.
Thus, there are stringent regulations in every country, and also internationally, regulating the work processes in confined spaces (as a matter of fact, laws prohibit work in confined spaces if this can be avoided through other means, no matter how costly). These laws also require the presence of rescue teams within the vicinity of the work area in addition to the many permits and find licenses companies need to be granted to start work in confined spaces; through this, the number of risks posed by this type of work have been considerably decreased – but nonetheless, they still persist.