A Brief History of Confined Space, it’s not a new problem

Globally, confined spaces cause many deaths each year, these incidents are often down to untrained staff and personnel who are unaware they are entering a confined space. Although it is believed that the numbers of confined space accidents are only a fraction of those that actually occur, many locations are not initially identified as confined spaces. In the UK alone there are an estimated 15 deaths each year from confined space incidents. Confined space accidents are a serious concern within the industry because of the hazards they present to the operative and to the rescue team. In the 1980’s an estimated 60% of fatalities involved rescuers and more than 30% of fatalities occurred in a space that had been tested and found to be safe to enter, this is still a problem today.


What is a confined space?

“Confined Space” is defined by the 1997 Confined Space Regulations as any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well, or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk.


So, what does a “specified risk” mean?

  • serious injury to any person at work arising from a fire or explosion;

  • without prejudice to paragraph (a) — (i) the loss of consciousness of any person at work arising from an increase in body temperature; (ii) the loss of consciousness or asphyxiation of any person at work arising from gas, fume, vapour, or the lack of oxygen;

  • the drowning of any person at work arising from an increase in the level of liquid; or

  • the asphyxiation of any person at work arising from a free-flowing solid or the inability to reach a respirable environment due to entrapment by a free-flowing solid.


How can confined spaces be made safer?

Although confined spaces can be extremely dangerous, ensuring you have taken the correct precautions can significantly reduce the risks posed within a confined space.



Those entering a confined space MUST be trained. Their training should involve identifying what a confined space is, rescue techniques, operating the equipment and awareness of their environment and the hazards.City & Guilds suite of courses are accredited and accepted on many sites


Confined space training will outline the skills and procedures required for safe entry into confined spaces. The training should include precautions such as “lock out tag out” (LOTO) of hazardous services (electrical, gas, fluid or latent energy sources), hazard identification and risk assessment, testing of atmospheres to ensure the air is respirable and no explosive or noxious gases are present (Gas detection), forced air ventilation, observation of workers in the space (Topman), communications and PPE required for entry determined by risk assessment. Rescue planning and use of appropriate safety harnesses, escape breathing apparatus and other rescue equipment should also be included.

Further training may include the use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), supplied airline systems, and rebreathers.


Gas and ventilation/Testing and monitoring of the atmosphere.

he most common hazard in confined spaces is atmospheric hazards. These affect air quality and present immediate hazards to those working in a confined space, this is the reason why the atmospheric conditions need to be checked immediately before entering into the space and monitored continuously while carrying out work within the confined space.


The oxygen concentration, the presence of toxic gases, and flammable material are the three conditions that must be monitored.

Dangerous atmospheres can be created by mother nature, hydrogen sulfide can be found naturally occurring, as can methane and many other gases. Once these gases are concentrated in areas free from ventilation they become extremely hazardous to human life.

Other airborne contaminants must also be assessed for dangers to health such as spray paint or other aerosol airborne particulates.

A thorough risk assessment of work to be carried out is essential, this should take into account any hazards the workers may introduce into the confined space.


MSA, Drager, Crowcon, and Industrial Scientific are just a few of the suppliers of reliable gas detection systems. The MSA Altair 4Xr has Bluetooth connectivity to allow the Topman to monitor atmospheric conditions that entrants are subject to; it also contains a man-down alarm that will alert the topman to conditions where an entrant may have collapsed.


Respiratory protective equipment

Protection of the respiratory system is of paramount importance, selection of suitable protection is essential

During the risk assessment, gases, particulates, and other airborne contaminants may be identified. The protection required may range from a P2 dust mask through to SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus)

Whichever equipment is selected the masks MUST be face fit tested by a qualified technician. Inadequate seal to the face may lead to the user inhaling contaminants without being aware. This could lead to immediate incapacitation or long term effects on the users health.

Correct training in the use of breathing apparatus is a legal requirement under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER).


Rescue planning and rescue equipment

Where a system of entry permits is in place, a rescue plan will be required, which includes a trained and equipped rescue team availability. Equipment such as tripod hoists, harnesses, and others may be required to extricate a worker from a toxic environment, without unduly endangering rescue personnel. In some industrial plants, Working at Height and Confined Space Rescue services are combined and delivered together. The rescue plan must be viable and it is recommended where practicable the plan is rehearsed to ensure its viability.

The Rescue Team must be able to respond immediately in the event of an emergency and should be positioned close to the confined space operation to be effective.


QAB Systems offers access to some of the top brands in the industry. Supplying equipment such as gas monitors, harness, rescue equipment and lifting equipment such as tripods, davits and even Portagantry™ from Reid Lifting, IKAR, Reach and Rescue and so much more. To find out more about what we offer contact our team members Duncan or Gary today via email at duncan@qabsystems.com or gary@qabsystems.com who will be happy to advise on the latest safety equipment to keep you and your team safe.