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Information on safety working in confined spaces by Worksafe

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Working in confined spaces could be the last thing workers will ever do because of the risk of being overcome by dangerous gases. WorkSafe added that the dangers associated with working in confined spaces were well established.

Work in confined spaces with poor ventilation has led to deaths and it is essential that appropriate controls and training are in place to manage these risks. In some cases people just go to sleep and do not wake up.

These are issues for people in agriculture (silos and water tanks), construction and manufacturing, warehousing, the water industry, even retail (refrigerated storerooms).

Community expectations about, employers properly managing these risks had grown and was being reflected in court decisions involving those who failed to meet their obligations.

Last month, a Yarra Valley timber treatment company H Waterhouse & Son was convicted and fined for failing to have proper procedures in place for welding in confined spaces. While welding inside a tank at the firm’s Woori Yallock plant in March 2003 a man vomited, experienced dizziness and had breathing difficulty.

H Waterhouse & Son pleaded not guilty to charges laid under Sections 21(1) and (2)(a) and 21(1) and (2)(e) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985.

WorkSafe’s investigation found:

  • Procedures dealing specifically with welding in the confined space of the tanks were not in place
  • A hazard identification or risk assessment was not done in relation to welding in the tank
  • There was only one ventilation point which is the point of entry
  • There was inadequate supervision to ensure safety procedures were followed
  • There was no induction in relation to work to be done at the workplace
  • The injured man was not wearing protective personal equipment
  • Procedures were put in place after the incident to control work in confined spaces.

Although the man was employed by K&T Engineering, he was a deemed employee of H Waterhouse and Son when on that company’s site and working under its director and mill manager.

K&T Engineering pleaded guilty to one charge laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985 on 27 August 2004 and was convicted and fined.

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