Confined spaces

Workers can become trapped or overcome by fumes, vapours, poisonous or explosive gases when working in confined spaces. This can lead to people dying.

Many workers who tried to rescue workmates without a proper rescue plan and the necessary equipment have been overcome by toxic or suffocating gas and fumes, or a lack of oxygen, and have collapsed and died, adding to the tragedy.

What is a confined space?

Confined spaces are not just tanks, vessels or chambers. They do not have to be totally enclosed.

They can be any place where there is a risk of the following.

  • Reduced or increased levels of oxygen in the air.
  • The presence or build-up of poisonous gases, fumes or vapours.
  • The presence or build-up of flammable or explosive gases or vapours.
  • Drowning due to an inrush of liquid, or being engulfed or buried in free flowing solids (such as sand).

Depending upon the work hazards many places could be classed as a confined space. Some examples are listed below.

  • Excavations and trenches.
  • Inspection chambers, sewers and soakaways.
  • Service tunnels and shafts, plant rooms and boiler rooms.
  • Basements, voids and staircases.
  • Lofts, roof voids and attic spaces.
  • Unventilated rooms and rooms with sealed windows.
  • Oil storage tanks or water tanks above or below ground.

An unventilated room may not seem like a confined space. However, if you are using a substance in the room that gives off toxic or hazardous vapours then you could be overcome and fall unconscious.

Toxic paint remover fumes cause death of worker

A worker died after breathing in toxic fumes while carrying out restoration work in a bathroom at a flat in South West London. The worker was using an industrial paint and varnish remover to strip resin coating from the bath. The room did not have enough ventilation and the 55-year-old victim was overcome by the fumes. He died at the scene and was discovered later by the occupant of the flat.

Depending upon the work activity, any space can become a confined space
Entry to confined space with lifeline and rescue equipment