Often whilst engaging in construction activities we are required to work near hazards or in a hazardous environment. In fact a construction site is one of the most hazardous places to work which is why workers must be trained on construction site health and safety in order to avoid succumbing to the risks associated with these hazards.
One such hazard that commonly occurs on construction sites (whether mining construction, road construction, building construction sites etc.) is presented by a confined space.
We need to recognise and identify what constitutes a “confined space” before we are able to address the risks associated with this hazard. A confined space is classified as an enclosed or partially enclosed space that is not designed be occupied by a person.
Typically on a construction site an example of a confined space may be presented by excavations or trenches, drainage or sewerage pipes and crawl spaces.
But what makes work in confined spaces most high risk are its atmosphere, contaminants or engulfment, serious consequences could result, possibly fatal.
Risks Associated with Work in Confined Spaces
An accident which took place in San Joaquin in the USA is an example of why work in confined spaces can be so high risk and deadly to workers. Last year a flash fire occurred inside a metal tank, causing an industrial painter to sustain serious burns. The company responsible was subsequently fined for their failure to adequately address the hazard and provide the worker with a safe work environment.
The following excerpt from a post on EHSToday.com details the incident:
On Dec. 17, 2013, the worker was spraying a flammable coating on the inside walls of a large steel tank when a fire was ignited by a portable halogen light. The 37-year-old man was rescued but spent three days in the burn unit at San Joaquin Community Hospital.
“This was a preventable accident,” said Christine Baker, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. “The employer was aware that working inside the confined space was dangerous but did not take the required steps to avoid putting workers at serious risk.”
The company employing the man should have identified the risks associated with working in the space and implemented the necessary measures to guard against them. The company responsible for this incident was accused of using an unauthorised electric lamp while the painter was working in an explosive atmosphere, not having a permit to work in a confined space and not providing proper ventilation or protective equipment for the worker in the confined space.
Another problematic action or inaction identified on the employer’s part was failure to train workers for work in confined spaces.
Although this incident occurred in the United States, Australia also has strict health and safety laws pertaining to work in confined spaces and in general on construction sites.
In Australia every worker engaging in construction work of any sort must complete general construction safety training in the form of The White Card course.
This course is aimed at educating workers on the basic health and safety issues relating to construction work, of which one if working in a confined space.
But in addition to this certification that every worker must obtain, employers have to ensure that workers engaged in high risk work are adequately trained and supervised, in certain instances this involves obtaining a high risk licence, in which case being in possession of a White Card alone will not be sufficient.