The current government guidance on social distancing states that workers should keep two metres apart whenever possible. However, workers inside a confined space can’t always stay two metres apart. This can create problems with compliance in confined space works.
Employers should limit the number of workers allowed inside confined spaces. Workers should also use personal protective equipment to reduce their exposure to COVID-19.
Why do we need to ensure this? Well, as well as being authorised in legislation, the dangers of COVID-19 transmission can be exacerbated in confined spaces. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the coronavirus can spread through respiratory droplets that become airborne from an infected individual’s mouth or nose when he or she talks, sneezes or coughs. The risk of being exposed to these infected respiratory droplets increases in the confined space workplace. Workers can become infected after contacting contaminated surfaces, including those inside the confined space.
Using PPE has always been a necessity when working in confined spaces. However, the nature and extent of the PPE required by workers has changed due to COVID-19. Workers should use disposable gloves, a mask or face covering, safety glasses, and/or a face shield to create a barrier between germs and themselves. Depending on the types of exposure hazards that are present, workers may also need to wear coveralls or other types of PPE.
If workers will be using a hazardous chemical, check its Safety Data Sheet for the recommended PPE.
Employers need to educate workers on how to:
Inspect and use PPE.
Effectively clean and store it.
Dispose of it properly.
However, before issuing workers PPE for use in confined spaces, employers should first apply a hierarchy of control to implement other safety controls, including ventilation, work substitution and social distancing. Workers can use PPE and other safety controls together. PPE should be the last line of defence employers use to protect workers from COVID-19.
Depending on the types of confined spaces present in the workplace, each employer may have distinct types of housekeeping and disinfecting issues.
If a COVID-19 exposure occurs inside a confined space, housekeeping materials and PPE used to clean it must be discarded properly. Make sure any housekeeping chemicals used inside the space will not create a hazardous atmosphere.
It’s possible to safely work inside confined spaces amid the ongoing pandemic. Employers and workers will need to be more cautious about social distancing, using PPE and performing housekeeping inside confined spaces. Employers should consider performing health assessments on workers before they can enter a confined space. These assessments might include taking a worker’s temperature with a contact-free thermometer, asking workers if they have any symptoms and having them take a COVID-19 test.