Owing to the prevalence of dangers while working in confined spaces, it is imperative that companies implement proper measures to ensure safety at all times.
This was the message conveyed at multinational company 3M’s Fall Protection – Confined Spaces workshop, held last month at 3M’s offices in Woodmead, Johannesburg.
Research undertaken by 3M into confined-space injuries and fatalities indicates that, between 2005 and 2009, 481 people died while working in confined spaces globally.
“Occupational health and safety for working in a confined space is a pertinent issue, as it is a feature at most work sites, spanning all industrial sectors,” says 3M emergency medical specialist Rudi Menkveld.
Speaking at the workshop, Menkveld emphasised the need to ensure safety of employees when working in confined spaces, through proper training and following the correct safety processes.
He outlined the most prevalent dangers that employees could encounter when working in confined spaces.
Firstly, a lack of oxygen or exposure to poisonous gas, fumes or vapours inside a confined space can pose dangers. To prevent casualties, pre-emptive measures are essential – workers must always undertake atmospheric tests prior to entering a confined space to ascertain that the conditions are safe for human inhalation.
If the air is unsuitable, breathing apparatus for all workers entering a confined space must be provided. Atmospheric testing must be done continuously to ensure that conditions remain stable throughout the confined-space work period.
Menkveld also emphasised the need for proper permit systems to be in place when entering and working in a confined space, as this would ensure that workers were authorised to enter the area and had complied with the requirements to work in the specific conditions of a space.
Thirdly, Menkveld emphasised that proper training should always be in place for those working in confined spaces. Training can be done in-house or by external service providers to familiarise workers with the dangers, and measures to overcome them.
“Confined-space hazards are well known, and the solutions are well recognised. There is no excuse for workers to die in confined spaces and for employers to claim ignorance.”
During the workshop, 3M fall protection market segment leader Anderson Cilliers expounded that the key to preventing accidents – and in the worst-case scenario, rescuing workers – was to use the correct equipment.
He emphasised that there was no generic approach, but that customised fall-protection and retrieval-equipment solutions should be pursued, depending on the conditions and the work to be undertaken in the confined space.
Further, as confined spaces often had constrained openings through which workers must access and exit, a thorough investigation of a space’s unique characteristics must be undertaken, he indicated. Consequently, workers must also familiarise themselves with this, as well as the space’s surrounding environment. Following this, the correct combination of suitable equipment for the space and job will be determined.
Cilliers averred that the process of determining the correct fall-protection and retrieval equipment should be integrated into a company’s risk management processes.
“Safety has to be paramount in all work environments, but particularly in confined spaces, which are inherently risky and not designed with human occupancy in mind.”
3M provides a range of fall-protection and retrieval equipment to suit all scenarios of working in confined spaces.
The company also consults with clients to assist in determining the most appropriate solution to ensure employee safety when undertaking work in confined spaces. This solution spans safety and rescue, specific to the particular conditions of the confined space in which employees work.
3M examines the applicable local and international health and safety standards and regulations, and the particular company’s policy, after which it develops a solution encompassing these elements.
As a result, companies are ensured of compliance with applicable legislation and policies, with the added benefit of the most appropriate equipment being used.
Another focus area at the workshop was the need for optimal communication, presented by 3M hearing and communications market segment leader Marc Husselman.
He emphasised the correct choice of communications equipment that best suited the conditions within confined spaces.
3M provides a comprehensive range of Peltor communications headsets, which allows for two-way communication and active listening headsets for use in hazardous, high-noise environments.
This range of headsets and hearing protectors can be used in a number of environments, and meets most safety requirements for communication and hearing protection.
Attendees were introduced to a selection of this range and afforded the opportunity to test its capabilities.