How to eliminate Confined Spaces fatalities in the workplace

Accidents involving Confined Spaces 

Every year we read the sad stories in the news of workers that never returned home after a confined space accident.  Confined Spaces deaths are not only linked to workers but also to owners of farming properties and recreational activities like exploring caves.  Last year in February we learned about the deaths of three people of the Basnett family inside a concrete water tank.

In Queensland, Sarina we lost the two Vella brothers in 2018 cleaning out the residue (Sugarcane by- product and Urea) in “Suplaflo” tanks after unloading the cargo a day earlier,”.  Last time we checked Workplace Health, and Safety Queensland is still investigating the case.

In 2007 six people died exploring caves in the Canary Islands. The list goes on and on.

Why do these accidents happen?

When will we ever learn that everyday workplace confined areas or spaces can turn deadly at any unexpected time? The killer is something you cannot smell; you cannot see it, you take two breaths, and you collapse. People die not so much of something that is there but more of something that is not there – Oxygen! For people to breathe normally the amount of oxygen in the air needs to be between 19.5% and 23.5%.

Now, this takes me back to those twelve children trapped in the Thai cave (Tham Luang) earlier in 2018.  The rescue effort captivated the world. A former Thai navy SEAL died after he passed out from lack of oxygen. What was the oxygen levels in these caves? From memory, they mentioned levels below 16%, and this must have fluctuated during the whole operation.

What can we do about it? 

Let’s talk about what can employers do to eliminate fatalities of confined space entries.

  • If possible avoid the need for workers to go into a confined space. Designers and manufacturers have a responsibility here to ensure for example extra ventilation, installing devices to be able to see inside a container that will remove the need to enter the space.
  • Ensure all staff are trained and ticketed before entering in a confined space. According to the Work Health and Safety Acts and Regulations Employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU’s) must meet their Duty of Care. One of the Duties of Care topics is to ensure staff is thoroughly trained and inducted. Staff must be at all times current in their duties.

  • Update your Work Health and Safety policies and procedures to incorporate refreshers or updates for staff regularly. There is no set standard but every two years is accepted industry-wide for high-risk work activities. Click here for booking a course in confined spaces with LT Training.

  • Determine the hazards and risks with work in confined spaces in your circumstances. Try and get rid of the risks or find a safer way to lower the risk. Train your workers internally as well and instruct them what to do before going into confined spaces.
  • Make sure staff who enter a confined space follow safety rules. Staff must use safe equipment, work safely and fill out and follow an entry permit.
  • Ensure you have first aid and a rescue plan in place in case of an emergency. Workers should practice the plan to familiar with this to help to get someone out faster.
  • Review the hazard and risk controls and keep records about all work conducted in confined spaces.

Click here for booking a course in confined spaces with LT Training.

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