Posted on: 05/6/18

Top 5 Myths in Confined Space Work

Here at Reax Ltd in Blackpool, UK we work with people from a wide range of different industries, with various levels of experience. Here’s the top 5 myths our trainers hear every now and then:

Myth No. 1: “A confined space only has one point of access or egress”

While it’s true that a confined space may only have one way of getting in and out, that’s not what makes it a confined space. The two key characteristics a space needs to have to be a confined space under the Confined Space Regulations 1997 is to have an “enclosed nature” and for a “reasonably foreseeable specified risk” to be present. It’s entirely conceivable that a confined space could have a number of access points; think sewer system with multiple manholes!

Myth No. 2: “If the oxygen level is over 19.5% on my gas monitor its fine”

Normal oxygen content is around 20.9%. Human beings can survive on 19.5% oxygen, however why has the level of oxygen gone down? Has another gas displaced the oxygen, meaning that there is now another unidentified, potentially hazardous gas in the space? Most gas monitor only monitor for a small range of gases. Can you really be confident that there isn’t something nasty dwelling in there?

Myth No. 3: “I won’t fall in”

Look on most sites where a tripod or quadpod is being used to vertically access a confined space and you can almost guarantee that there will be people walking around right next to a hole in the ground, inches away from falling in! A slip, trip or lapse of concentration is all it takes to get to the bottom of a confined space very quickly…. Check out this article about how to avoid falling…

Myth No. 4: “We can just lower someone on the man-riding winch”

Sometimes during vertical entries there is a ladder or step irons. Other times there isn’t. A common method of accessing when there isn’t anything to hold onto is to use a man-riding winch. This allows an operative to be lowered down in a controlled manner and then lifted up when they’re finished. Good system. However, relying on that single piece of equipment is not acceptable. There needs to be a suitable fall arrest backup system in place in case the man-riding winch fails. This is generally a requirement under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and also usually under the manufacturer’s instructions for the man-riding winch. Lots of companies are getting this wrong, putting workers lives at risk and opening themselves up to massive legal headaches. Check out this more in-depth consideration of the issue.

Myth No. 5: “We’ll hire a rescue team and that will cover us for emergencies”

Any confined space work needs to have a provision for rescue. If something goes wrong there needs to be a way of getting people out promptly and safely. However many companies are throwing money at expensive third party rescue teams without ensuring that the service they provide is suitable and sufficient. Many rescue teams become complacent and fail to carry out even a minimum of measures to protect workers and the rescuers themselves. On one site that Reax staff attended, a third party rescue team did a gas test in the morning then sat in their van for the rest of the day, about 100 metres from the complex medium risk space. They were not ready to rescue anyone, not kitted up and totally unprepared! Not good. This was not an isolated case.

The best case scenario is to have workers trained for rescue, and for effective emergency procedures to be in place. If bringing in a third party rescue team it is essential that the service they provide is sufficient for any possible emergencies and that they can respond immediately to an incident. They should be kitted up, ready to go at a moment’s notice, not putting a half-eaten sandwich down while they jump out of the van then run across the carpark…

This is just a short list of common misconceptions or bad practice that we’ve come across. There are probably lots more. Any other myths out there that you’ve spotted?

Andy Williams is Training Manager at Reax Specialist Access and Rescue, based in Blackpool, UK. More details about Reax can be found at www.reaxltd.com.