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Fire and Safety Australia discuss safety measures to prevent confined space fatalities

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According to Steven McLeod, Managing Director, Fire and Safety Australia , within the mining industry workers regularly enter confined spaces such as furnaces, bag-houses, ore bins, chutes and grinding mills in conjunction with their day-to-day work. The only way to protect workers from death and serious injury is to ensure that confined space safety is a top priority.

To reduce the likelihood of fatalities and injuries to workers, the industry must regularly perform confined space risk assessments, update confined space procedures and undertake nationally recognised confined space training.

Confined space identification and risk assessment:
Hazard identification within the industry is a part of daily work life. However confined space work demands specific attention. Australian Standard AS/NZS 2865: 2001 Safe working in a confined space places the responsibility of hazard identification and risk assessment squarely on the employer or their representative. The listed objective is to eliminate or minimise the need to enter confined spaces.

The only way for employers and occupational health and safety professionals to comply with AS/NZS 2865: 2001 is to undertake regular hazard identification and task based risk assessments. Rather than completing a risk assessment of a particular confined space, risk assessments should be ‘task based’ and specific attention should be given to the task that is being performed within the confined space and the elimination (where possible) of that task. By completing risk assessments this way, effective control measures can be developed for each task taking into account the work that is required to be done. Only with task based risk assessment can a full and effective risk mitigation strategy be developed.

Risk assessments of confined spaces over time will not drastically change, however tasks that workers complete may indeed change as new technology is introduced or as new personnel are introduced. If the confined space working group completes a risk assessment/review that is ‘task based’, all hazards involved with the task should be assessed thereby reducing the likelihood of confined space fatalities and injuries in the work place.

Confined space procedures:
The extent of an organisation’s confined space procedures is limited to a near verbatim extract from AS/NZS 2865. However confined space procedures must specifically take into account the work tasks required to be done at the worksite. When developing procedures it is critical that a working group be established which takes participants from Management, Occupational Health & Safety Professionals, Workers and Emergency Response Teams.

The working group should then form together at least annually to produce a comprehensive guide to confined space operations. Different sites may require different procedures. While a safety standard may encompass a number of sites, each site should have task based work procedure based on work performed. By regularly involving the confined space working party and professional advice, the industry can standardise work tasks and reduce the likelihood of confined space fatalities and injuries.

Confined space training:
Training should be nationally recognised and take into account the requirements listed in Australian Standard 2865: 2001, which includes the hazards of confined spaces, assessment procedures, control measures, emergency procedures, safety equipment and legislative requirements.

The selection of the type of training to be carried out must be based on the tasks that workers may be asked to perform. The selection will be based on

  • Will personnel be required to undertake standby duties?
  • Will the person carry out atmospheric monitoring of the confined space?
  • Will personnel be required to undertake the rescue of casualties from a potentially hazardous environment?

Regular training is an effective control measure in the minimisation of risks for confined space operations. Regular training and emergency scenarios should focus on enhancing skills by exposing personnel to a variety of different situations. Regular training is a control measure that cannot be ignored to prevent confined space fatalities and injuries within the mining industry.

Confined space entry is often defined as dangerous or hazardous work. If organisations complete task based risk assessments, develop effective task based confined space procedures and regularly complete nationally recognised confined space training then the likelihood of fatalities and injuries within the mining industry will be greatly reduced.

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