The most frequent confined spaces found in the beverage and hospitality industry include cellars, walk-in coolers, commercial refrigerators and freezers. These cool areas are built with limited space and an airtight seal, the risk is even more heightened due to their use of CO2.
A carbon dioxide leak would quickly become a health hazard to an employee entering the area without any warning of a problem. CO2 exists naturally in the atmosphere but a small increase can start to have an effect on humans including light-headedness and nausea. A walk-in cooler or refrigerator can quickly become a deadly vacuum if not addressed and ventilated immediately.
A suitable way to detect CO2 is with gas sensors, most commonly infra-red, as this toxic gas is undetectable by human senses. We recommend an alarm is placed where the sensor is situated, and also on the outside of the risk area to warn of a leak before anybody enters directly into the space.
What are the dangers of working in a confined space?
What is a confined space defined as?
A confined space, described by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as ‘one which is both enclosed, or largely enclosed, and which also has a reasonably foreseeable risk to workers of fire, explosion, loss of consciousness, asphyxiation or drowning. It may be small and restrictive for the worker, or it could be far larger such as a grain storage silo, with hundreds of cubic metre capacity.’
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also state that ‘confined spaces, because while they are not necessarily designed for people, they are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs. A confined space also has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.’
As the guidelines suggest it’s not just small areas which are defined as a confined space, it can be larger areas which have a risk of fire or reduced oxygen. Other dangers can include flooding or drowning, or even asphyxiation from another source such as dust, grain or other contaminants.
Areas regarded as confined spaces include:
- Storage tanks
- Enclosed drains and sewers
- Grain stores
- Walk-in coolers and commercial refrigerators
- Combustion chambers in furnaces
- Unventilated or poorly ventilated rooms
- Open-topped chambers
What do I need to be aware of if I have to work in a confined space?
Firstly, do not ignore warnings and risks associated with working in a confined space. The advice and guidance is to try and avoid working in confined spaces all together, but where this is not possible actions can be put into place to help reduce the risks associated with this environment.
Ensure the person has been fully trained and a full risk assessment of the area has been carried out. The regulations also recommend that personal protective equipment is supplied and immediate emergency assistance guidance, not just notifying emergency services, is clearly outlined and communicated.
Sometimes the dangers are invisible, like the levels of oxygen due to an inert gas leak. Other toxic substance leaks and increased levels of enriched oxygen are undetectable by human senses. It’s therefore important that sensor technology is used to identify if there is an issue.
The use of wall-mounted gas sensors, or a personal safety alarm will ensure that those in that environment are alerted to a problem, whether its a risk of fire due to enriched oxygen, or the potential to cause asphyxiation.
Confined Space regulations and guidance
There are several regulations worldwide which provide guidance on what’s considered as a confined space and how to protect people from the risks associated with them. As many areas involve workers, employers are ultimately responsible for their safety and can be found in workplace health and safety regulations. We’ve listed some below. Check the ones applicable to your location:
Work Health and Safety Act Australia (Check your state regulations)
Check with your local government representative or website for more guidance on how to protect your workers from confined spaces and other potential hazards.
The general guidance is to not work in confined spaces but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Make sure you’ve covered your facility to prevent harm to workers with a comprehensive risk assessment and in-depth training. Although nothing can prevent accidents, you can control the level of protection and actions in place to limit harm to workers and also costly shut down time with preventable equipment such as gas monitors.