Do you legally have to use a Permit to Work for Confined Spaces?

The short answer is "probably" and you'd have to effectively demonstrate the criteria below to justify not using a permit to work in a confined space: 
  • The risks assessed are low and can be easily controlled.
  • The system of work is very simple.
  • Where you can be sure that other work activities being carried out cannot affect safe working in the confined space.
The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997, which apply to all workplaces, require that a safe system of work is used for any work in confined spaces, which should include the use of a permit to work system where there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury in entering or working in the confined space. If a trained, competent person, considering the advice of specialists and the results of the risk assessment, decides that any identified risks can be easily controlled, or the work system is very simple, a permit-to-work system does not have to be used. However, it is quite likely that companies will take the view that any and all work carried out in confined spaces presents a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury and so have a policy that a permit-to-work is always required for confined space work. Under the Regulations, a confined space is defined as any space that is substantially enclosed, and where there is a risk of serious injury from hazardous substances, or from conditions within the space, such as lack of oxygen or the risk of drowning.

Employers have a legal duty to identify all confined spaces in the workplace, and to assess the risks associated with working in them. Where it is not reasonably practicable to avoid entry into a confined space, a safe system of work must be put in place.

The permit to work system for confined spaces must include written procedures for entry into and exit from the confined space, as well as procedures for monitoring and controlling the atmosphere within the space, and for communication between workers inside and outside the space. The permit to work system must also identify the individuals who are authorized to enter the confined space, and specify the precautions that must be taken to ensure that the work is carried out safely. The permit to work must be signed off by a competent person before work can begin, and it must be reviewed regularly to ensure that the work remains safe.

In summary, the use of a permit to work system is usually a legal requirement for work in confined spaces in the UK, and failure to comply with the Confined Spaces Regulations can result in legal action being taken against the employer. In 2019, a waste management company was fined £500,000 after an employee died while working in a confined space. The HSE found that the company had failed to use a permit-to-work system, and that the employee had not been adequately trained or supervised.

SG World offer a full range of paper permit to works including Confined Spaces as well as a 5D Contractor Management software platform with a customisable electronic Permit to Work module, including 5 default templates for Hazardous Substances, Hot Work, Working at Height, Electrical and Confined Spaces.

New call-to-action

Previous article How do induction safety videos help visiting contractors?
Next article Some good advice when moving from paper to digital permits to work