Occupational safety in confined spaces should be one of the priorities when establishing occupational prevention measures in these types of places.
Within the safety in the workplace, there are special elements like this that we give today on confined spaces. It is a requirement for any field, but in the case of confined places it becomes even more important, since as a worker you face additional risks to those usual in a workplace.
Do you know what a confined place is?
This term defines those places that have limited entrances and exits. These are spaces in which natural ventilation is not favorable, so they tend to have an atmosphere in which toxic and even flammable pollutants accumulate.
They are not places where as a worker you have to stay for a long time. However, if you have to do so, it is important that you have the necessary information on risk prevention and that you know the relevant security measures.
Types of confined spaces to work
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Australia, establishes two types of confined spaces:
- Works in open confined spaces
- Works in closed confined spaces.
Examples of confined jobs:
- Cleaning and repair of tanks.
- Tank cleaning or repair.
- Reactor maintenance.
- Well maintenance.
- Tank maintenance
Possible occupational health hazards in confined spaces
The risks that you face as a worker who has to spend their working day or part of it in a confined place are many and varied. Due to the characteristics of the place, it will be a space of reduced dimensions, so the narrowness will make it difficult to carry out your tasks.
This can lead to uncomfortable working postures, with consequent problems for the muscles and joints. Falls at different levels or blunt objects can also occur.
By not having natural ventilation, you will not have sunlight either, so you will have to resort to artificial light. In most cases, these types of spaces are illuminated with portable tools that do not provide all the necessary light so that the human eye does not suffer. This can lead to visual problems.
On the other hand, as we advanced in the definition of a confined place, the atmosphere of these spaces may contain polluting or toxic elements.
Air contains 21% oxygen. If this is reduced, suffocation symptoms are produced that worsen as this percentage decreases.
The Ministry of Health and Labor presents some data on between oxygen concentrations, exposure time and consequences:
To this is added the lack of oxygen (which is called anoxia), which can lead to some type of respiratory problem if you do not have the appropriate preventive measures. Also, the risk of suffocation is highly higher than in other places.
Your hearing can also be damaged in a small space if you use a machine or tool that generates a lot of noise due to the vibrations produced by it.
In a narrow and small space, any sound is amplified, so it can be harmful to the ear if you do not have adequate protection to prevent it.
Finally, you should know that any accident that occurs in a confined space can have more serious repercussions. This is due to the difficulty of helping, compounded by the lack of adequate protection for the person helping. Take the case of a burial or entrapment of one of the limbs, two cases that will be aggravated by the environment in which they occur.
Work safety in confined spaces
All these risks that we presented a few lines above can be avoided through labor prevention in confined spaces. Knowing the risks that exist and how to deal with them is a fundamental part of training in occupational safety in these types of spaces.
You should also know what the workplace is going to be like, what are its special characteristics and the protection measures that you must adopt. This goes through your protective equipment and through special training.
Preparing the work area properly is the first step. Knowing how to do it, adapting to the characteristics of the place where you are going to work, is vital to avoid future risks. You must start with signage, one of the basic tools of risk prevention in any area.
The municipal ordinances and the technical guide will give you the keys to what that signage should look like.
The consignment devices (also called locking or interlocking) are another of the fundamental aspects in terms of occupational safety. They will prevent an accident caused by the involuntary start-up of a tool or machine. They will also be useful for blocking energy sources that could cause a fire or flood, for example.
Controlled opening and cleaning of the entrance will prevent elements that could interfere with the interior of the confined space. We refer, for example, to an object that may cause an accident inside the place or that is harmful to you during the development of your tasks.
As for the interior, it is also important to take a measurement of the atmosphere. This is one of the fundamental parameters that you must include when evaluating a confined space. As a worker you should receive this information in your occupational risk training.
Ventilation is linked to it, which should be done whenever possible to purify the indoor air that you are going to breathe.
The personal protective equipment (PPE) of each worker is another essential factor. They should be adapted to the specific conditions of the place and you will have to check them before entering the confined space.
In this way you will ensure its correct operation. They include fall protection, such as safety chains.
Sometimes it may be necessary to secure the site before starting work on it. This is the case of wall shoring, to avoid a possible collapse during the works. Finally, we want to make a special mention of the importance of cleaning the place before, during and after the work carried out.
This will prevent work accidents as serious as those derived from the presence of toxic elements or elements that cause falls or trips.
Communication with the outside
In this type of work, coordination with other colleagues who are abroad will be a fundamental point.
The functions of the partner who is abroad, will be to monitor equipment, and ensure the possibility of rescue in the event of an accident.
As you have seen, the importance of workplace safety in confined spaces is greater than in other types of work environments.
The risks to which workers are subjected are multiplied both in number and in severity. For this reason, it is vital to have adequate protective equipment and to know the characteristics of the place in order to take the appropriate measures.
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