bSafe@work 2/1/2018
Working in confined spaces
The invisible hazards and many fatal accidents
Each year there are many accidents in working in confined spaces. Although exact figures are difficult to trace, worldwide, over thousands of fatal accidents still occur. In Germany the average of deadly accidents in 2014 and 2015 was even alarmingly higher; there were 116 casualties during work in a confined space. After extensive research and analysis of these accidents, in over 70% of the cases they found out that the accident easily could have been prevented if there was any kind of skill and preparation of the persons concerned.

The definition of a confined space
In many cases, this is where things go wrong. For many companies and employers as well, often the case or situation of entering a confined space is not even recognised. The employee just needs to quickly do the job. Once the workplace is difficult to reach, the space is cramped or poorly ventilated and there is no other exit than actually the entrance, you are dealing with a confined space. The most common examples are:

• installation spaces (including wind turbines, technical rooms);
• crawl spaces (under floors);
• boilers and storage tanks (silos);
• sewer systems;
• pits and trenches;
• pipelines;
• basements

The invisible dangers
The most common hazards are choking (too little oxygen or inhalation of hazardous materials or vapors) explosions and crushing. Choking can happen within minutes and an explosion is often a matter of seconds. In many cases there is no evacuation plan in place and the people involved simply do not know what to do during an emergency. Activated emergency servers are almost always too late.

What about legislations?
Regarding the legislations and instructions there is enough knowledge, but too less prevention. And that is why it still goes wrong in so many cases (at least, the ones we know of are most of the time with a fatal outcome).
The problem with working in a confined space is often the temporary nature of the work to be carried out as a cursory inspection or repair. Unfortunately, every day hundreds of plumbers enter alone (and unprepared) into crawl spaces to connect a pipe under the floor. In these situations there is simply not enough attention paid to the possible risk of working in a confined space, let alone appropriate measures were taken such as a manhole assistant with continuous eye contact, oxygen measurement and an emergency plan.

In the prevention of these kind of accidents, continuously repetition of possible hazards, still proved to be the best solution. Large-scale studies show that the frequent use of warning signs and instructions, reducing the risk of accidents up to 80%.
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