Every workplace has confined spaces, and it is the responsibility of employers to ensure that these spaces are safe for workers. A confined space risk assessment must be conducted to identify any potential hazards and put measures to mitigate these risks.
But how exactly do you perform confined space risk assessment? This article will discuss confined space risk assessment and how you can execute it safely in your workplace.
What is Confined Space Risk Assessment?
A confined space risk assessment is a systematic process of identifying and evaluating the risks associated with work in confined spaces. It is important to conduct a confined space risk assessment before any work is carried out to ensure proper safety procedures are followed, the necessary permits are acquired, and proper evacuation plans are in place when working in narrow or confined spaces.
During a confined space risk assessment, inspectors use templates and safety checklists to record and check for adequate ventilation, atmosphere testing, PPE usage, permit documentation, and staff signatures.
3 Things that Make a Confined Space?
Without a point of basis, identifying confined spaces can be as ambiguous as determining what “substance abuse” is. However, confined spaces can be identified by three main characteristics:
Entry and Exit Routes are Limited
The first criterion of a confined space is the difficulty of workers entering, performing general maintenance and work activities, and exiting the area. A confined space has only one or two ways in or out, which may be difficult to access. Limited entry and exit routes will make it challenging to perform a rescue if something goes wrong while a worker is inside the space. Even if the area has multiple entries and exit points, it is considered a confined space if going in and out of the premise proves challenging.
The area is “Just Enough” for Workers
The second criterion for confined spaces is if the space doesn’t have an adequate size that lets workers enter and conduct work. If workers cannot fit their bodies comfortably in the space, there is a high possibility of incidents such as entrapment and asphyxiation. Therefore, before commencing work in an area, make sure that it can fit a person comfortably.
The area is Not Meant for Continuous Human Occupancy
The third criterion of a confined space is if the area isn’t designed to contain or hold a person for an extended period of time. A confined space is typically an area that was not meant to have people inside it for long periods, such as storage rooms, crawl spaces, and manholes. These areas are not intended for human occupancy and thus do not have the proper ventilation or safety features to protect workers.
Different Types of Confined Spaces
Despite the criteria that we just mentioned, the term “confined spaces” is still a broad term that covers different varieties of spaces. Depending on the type of business, there may be several confined spaces in your workplace. But typically, confined spaces fall into either two categories:
- Extremely hazardous – Confined spaces that endanger workers’ welfare or present immediate health hazards upon entry.
- Less hazardous – Confined spaces that present less immediate dangers and may have little chance of causing harm to workers.
Dangerous confined spaces are also called “permit confined spaces” because they need appropriate permits that can only be obtained after a qualified person completes a confined space risk assessment of the area. On the other hand, the less dangerous confined spaces are also called “non-permit confined spaces.”
A permit confined space has one or more of the following qualities:
- It contains—or could contain—a hazardous atmosphere (e.g., toxic gases or fume).
- It contains material that could bury or engulf a worker (e.g., grain, sand, or water).
- It has an internal configuration that might cause a worker to be physically trapped or asphyxiated (e.g., confined spaces that are not large enough for a worker to enter and exit easily).
- It contains other serious safety or health hazards (e.g., live electrical wires).
On the other hand, a non-permit confined space does not have any of the qualities that make a confined space hazardous. However, just because a confined space is classified as non-permit does not mean it is completely safe. There are still risks involved when working in non-permit confined spaces, which is why a confined space risk assessment is still necessary.
Main Dangers of a Confined Space
Whether it’s permit or non-permit, confined spaces, in general, are hazardous by nature due to the space limitations and challenging entry and exit points. That’s why confined space hazards and precautions should always be addressed since there are other potential dangers associated with working in confined spaces.
With that said, here are some of the main dangers of confined spaces:
- Oxygen Deficiency: a confined space can lack sufficient oxygen, leading to asphyxiation. This can be due to air displacement by another gas, absorption of air onto steel, or various chemical reactions or biological processes.
- Toxic Atmosphere: a toxic atmosphere can cause various acute or severe effects. It can include impaired judgment, unconsciousness, or even death. A confined space may contain a toxic atmosphere due to the following:
- Presence of fire or flames
- Seepage due to improper isolation of adjoining facilities
- Formation during or due to work done in the confined space
- Gasses released from within brickwork or underscale result from the confined space’s work process.
- Remnants of previous processing or storage
- Disturbance of sludge and other toxic deposits.
- Flammable or Explosive Atmosphere: a confined space can also have a flammable or explosive atmosphere. This type of atmosphere is created when there is enough oxygen and combustible gas or vapor to support and maintain combustion. A confined space can have a flammable atmosphere due to the following:
- Excessive heat: Due to the enclosed nature of the confined space, the heat can build up and increase exponentially, especially during humid or hot weather. Lack of proper ventilation and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) can exacerbate these conditions.
- Oxygen Enrichment: Increased oxygen levels are also not ideal, especially in the presence of combustible materials. It can potentially increase the risk of fire or an explosion. Materials that don’t initially burn in the air may burn in an oxygen-enriched atmosphere.
- Flowing Liquid/Free-flowing Solids: liquids or solids that are in a confined space can also pose a hazard. They can cause drowning, burns, or other injuries to the worker.
DATAMYTE is Perfect for Confined Space Risk Assessment
It’s important to ensure worker safety in confined spaces. One way to do this is through early identification of potential risks and safety issues using a confined space risk assessment template and checklist. You’ll need DATAMYTE and its Digital Clipboard to create, share, and streamline your confined space risk assessment process for both of these forms.
The DataMyte Digital Clipboard is a digital version of the traditional paper clipboard that is used to collect confined space data. The DATAMYTE lets you create a comprehensive confined space risk assessment template to help you to identify and assess the risks associated with confined spaces within your workplace.
Our Digital Clipboard can even create entire workflows that will help pinpoint and mitigate the risks associated with confined space. By creating the right forms and checklist, you can ensure that you’re taking the necessary steps to protect your workers.
Get started with DATAMYTE today! Visit our website to learn more about our reliable Digital Clipboard and how it can help you keep your workers safe.
It’s important not to take confined space risk assessment lightly. By understanding the potential risks and hazards of confined spaces, you can take the necessary steps to protect your workers. Use this article to guide you in performing a confined space risk assessment, and don’t forget to take advantage of all the tools and features the DataMyte Digital Clipboard can offer. Get started today!