Working at heights is one of the most problematic high-risk activities on site but working in confined spaces is one that is often overlooked. According to Protekta, working in confined spaces is one of the highest risk environments with large fatality rates alongside working at heights. 

Why are confined spaces so dangerous?

One reason it is so dangerous is that the areas are not correctly identified as a confined space, therefore workers enter this space assuming it is a normal working environment making it an unsafe assumption and may lead to a catastrophic end result. Other reasons include deviation from the operating procedures, failure to test the atmosphere as studies have shown that it takes less than 1 minute to run completely out of oxygen when there is less than 5% oxygen within the atmosphere. Lack of proper PPE (personal protective equipment) and having no rescue plan makes confined spaces dangerous areas of work.

Still don’t think working in confined spaces is a big deal, it is indicated that 60% of fatal fatalities are rescuers!

Characteristics of Confined Spaces

The space should be large enough and configured in a way that the person could fit, enter the area, and perform the work within the space. The space has limited openings for entry and exits, and the space is not suitable for continuous human occupancy. It may also contain a hazard that could injury or cause illness to the person working in the space. Another characteristic is that access to emergency services is compromised. 

Multi-Level Classification System:

There are 4 levels of confined spaces, with level 4 being the highest: 

  • Level 1 – Do not have potential hazard capable of causing harm or death
  • Level 2 – Minimal hazards capable of causing harm or death
  • Level 3 – One or more hazards, can cause greater harm if not mitigated 
  • Level 4 – Pose significant harm to entrant  

Confined space operations should be handled in the same manner and require the same analysis as any other work practice where a risk to a worker has been identified. Basic principles of risk assessment and hazard identification should be applied where the requirement may occur for services and maintenance for working in a confined space. See the image below of the hierarchy of controls: 

CSMP: Confined Space Management Program 

This program addresses all the required aspects of confined space safety, development thereof, and to maintain it on-site by personnel and tailored to the specifications of the worksite. The benefit of having such a program in place is to prevent any injury or fatality when concerning confined spaces. Having the correct protocol in place can save lives. 

This program includes the following: 

  • Confined Space Inventory 
  • Confined Space Hazard Assessment
  • Code of Practice / Work Procedures
  • Inspections and Audits

Confined Space Inventory 

An inventory should be created with all identified confined spaces on site, this should be assessed by a qualified and experienced person on site. The following aspects are looked at when identifying confined spaces, location, shape, size, volume, and configuration. 

Confined Space Hazard Assessment

A hazard assessment should also be performed once all the confined areas have been identified. Identification of the types of hazards includes biological, configuration, physical and atmospheric. 

Code of Practice / Work Procedures

Internal and external elements should be evaluated, such as providing the correct worker training for persons on site and having a clear indication of roles and responsibilities of each worker, as to reduce any confusion in case of an emergency. Having the correct entry permits should also be evaluated and having clear emergency procedures in place. All equipment such as communication equipment (Visual signals, audible signals, and tactile signals) should be tested, and workers must be provided with isolation techniques.

 Astrometric testing is also critical to be done before entering a confined space and during the work period within the space. The pre-entry phase should test the calibration and the entry phase includes the scheduled atmospheric testing. 

Inspections and Audits

Inspections of all tools must take place to monitor the air quality. Practical application of procedures can be reviewed during this time and implement the necessary changes should be required. Content data register and records need to be kept. And if not the most important, simulations of rescue procedures. This all should be followed by feedback to workers and corrective actions should be implemented. 

Having these procedures in place could potentially reduce any accidents or incidents involving confined spaces. Other solutions would include, having the correct equipment and PPE on-site, which Protekta can provide. Follow this link to have a look at the equipment they have available:

If you would like more information on the services Cairnmead Industrial Consultants has to offer, contact us and let us put our combined 267 years of experience to work for you. Creating a world that is simply safe.

Christof Lourens

CEO Cairnmead Industrial Consultants (Pty) Ltd

Tel: 012 346 5752 | Email:

Brought to you by: Stephen Friend & Protekta Safety Gear

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