This article is part 3 of the series “Confined Space Work: Missing a Hazard?”
While dangerous gases and the risk of explosions continue to be major hazards in many confined spaces, there is another one which often goes unnoticed. It’s a hazard which accounts for the highest number of fatalities in workplaces generally.
“…a moment of silence followed by a thump and groans of pain.”
Picture the scene. A team of workers are entering into a confined space via a manhole which is approximately 10 feet deep. The manhole is in the middle of a field. They’ve vented and gas tested the space. A tripod has been set up over the manhole. This is a good start. The tripod will allow them to be fastened onto a fall arrest system as they climb down a ladder or step irons. Brilliant.
Two of the workers are wearing harnesses, standing next to the tripod, about 2 feet from the manhole… But their harnesses aren’t fastened on to anything! One step back and there will be a moment of silence followed by a thump and groans of pain. They will very easily fall down the manhole.
The harnesses they are wearing allow them to climb safely into the manhole. But while they are near the entry they are unprotected, able to fall at any moment.
This is not good.
Or legal for that matter. Regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations states that;
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Where work is carried out at height, every employer shall take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury.
In the confined space access situation we’ve been considering so far there has been a risk of a person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury. But nothing has been done about it while up at ground level. So the question is, what might suitable and sufficient measures be to prevent this?
Where possible the use of barriers is preferred. Barriers protect workers at ground level against falling. In addition some have a gate in to allow workers to clip on to a tripod mounted fall arrest system while outside the barrier, then enter through the gate. When choosing between fall protection methods, collective protection such as a barriers are preferable as they protect everyone outside the confined space.
Barriers also require little training to be effective. A disadvantage of barriers is that they can create an obstruction during rescues. Some metal barrier systems have been integrated into tripods or davit arms, creating an integrated access solution which is sturdy and transportable.
Personal protection such as fall arrest lanyards or adjustable lanyards can help to protect workers. While only protecting one person, they offer a flexible solution that leaves the tripod clear for access. These systems only protect one person at a time, which means that barriers are generally preferable; however in a rescue situation lanyards can allow more space for the extraction of a casualty in an emergency.
Where possible lanyards should be used as part of a “work restraint” system. This means that the user cannot physically get to the fall hazard, preventing them falling. If correctly set up this will still allow normal operation the tripod or other rescue equipment.
This article is purely for reference and not a replacement for proper training. Please call us on +44 (0) 1253 767775 for details of courses.