What is a confined space?

A “confined space” is defined in the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 & Approved Code of Practice. It means any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable “specified risk”

A “specified risk” means one or more of the following risks:

  • serious injury to any person at work arising from a fire or explosion;

  • the loss of consciousness of any person at work arising from an increase in body temperature;

  • the loss of consciousness or asphyxiation of any person at work arising from gas, fume, vapour or the lack of oxygen;

  • the drowning of any person at work arising from an increase in the level of liquid; or

  • the asphyxiation of any person at work arising from a free flowing solid or the inability to reach a respirable environment due to entrapment by a free flowing solid.

It is not sufficient for a work space to be enclosed to be defined as a “confined space”. Under the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 the work space must be substantially (although not always entirely) enclosed & one or more of the specified risks must actually be present or be reasonably foreseeable. A workspace may be a confined space permanently or, due to changes in the degree of confinement or the temporary presence of one of the specified risks, temporarily.

What precautions should be taken?

Departments must identify any confined spaces (permanent or temporary) within their area of control. For each confined space, a risk assessment must be produced that identifies what control measures are needed. Priority must be given to eliminating the need to work in confined spaces (either be addressing the enclosed nature of the work or eliminating the specific hazard).

Who is allowed to work in confined spaces?

All people who undertake work in confined spaces must be competent to do so. This means they must have the necessary skills, experiences and training so that they can safely work in confined spaces. They must also have sufficient resources and equipment to carry out the work safely and to deal with any emergencies that might arise during the work.

Most Departments in the University will lack the competence, resources or equipment to undertake confined spaces work themselves and will need to appoint a competent contractor to perform the work on their behalf. Departments will need to liaise closely with the appointed contractor to agree the arrangements for managing and monitoring the work.

Does confined space work require a permit to work?

A permit to work must always be used to manage entry and into a confined space. Note, a Permit to Work is not required for Research Work which may give rise to a specified risk within an enclosed space.

What steps should be taken when contemplating or performing confined space work?

The Confined Spaces Standard provides a practical scheme for the planning and performance of confined space work. The standard should be read by Heads’ of Department who have to make arrangements for confined spaces work. The standard should also be read by anyone who arranges or supervises confined spaces work (such as a Technical Supervisor or Safety Coordinator). The standard should also be read by any member of staff who performs work in a confined space.