Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees and others. This responsibility is reinforced by The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 which apply where there is an identifiable risk of serious injury from work in confined spaces : an enclosed space where there is a risk of death or serious injury from hazardous substances or dangerous conditions (e.g. lack of oxygen). These regulations contain the following key duties:
A confined space has one or more of the following characteristics:
Confined spaces include chambers, tanks (sealed and open-top), vessels, furnaces, ducts, sewers, manholes, pits, flues, excavations, boilers, reactors and ovens. Many fatal accidents have occurred where inadequate precautions were taken before and during the work involving entry into the confined spaces.
If you can't avoid carrying out tasks in confined spaces, you must assess the risks of the particular confined space and plan how you will control those risks. The two main hazards are the potential presence of the toxic or other dangerous substances and the absence of an adequate oxygen. In addition, there may be mechanical hazards (entanglement on agitators), ingress of fluids, the risk of engulfment in a free-flowing solid like grain or sugar and raised temperatures.
The work to be carried out may itself be especially hazardous when done in the confined space, for example, cleaning using solvents or cutting/welding work. Should the person working in the confined space get into difficulties for whatever the reason, getting help in and getting the individual out may prove difficult and dangerous. Stringent preparation, isolation, air testing and other precautions are therefore necessary, and experience shows that the use of a confined space permit to work is essential to confirm that all the appropriate precautions have been taken.
A permit-to-work system is a formal written system and an extension of the safe system of work. A permit is used where there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury in entering or working in the confined space. The permit to work will form a formal record that all foreseeable hazards and risks have been considered in advance. The precautions required will depend upon the nature of the confined space and the risk assessment, however the main elements to consider are:
The use of a permit system does not, by itself, make the job safe, however, it supports a safe system of working and also provides a ready means of recording findings and authorisations required to proceed with entry.
Tags: Permit to work