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Confined spaces

Working in a confined space has the potential to increase the risk of injury from noise, being overcome by fumes, gases or oxygen depletion, high or low temperatures, manual handling, and slips, trips and falls.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage the risks associated with a confined space at their workplace. Other specific duties include confined space entry permits, signage, communication, emergency procedures and a written risk assessment.

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Examples of confined spaces

A confined space includes any enclosed or partially enclosed space that:

  • is not designed or intended primarily to be occupied by a person
  • is, or is designed or intended to be, at normal atmospheric pressure while a person is in the space
  • is, or is likely to be, a risk because of the atmosphere, contaminants or engulfment.

Examples of confined spaces may include some types of excavations or trenches, drainage or sewerage pipes, and crawl spaces.

Examples of hazards

Some of the hazards when working in confined spaces include:

  • oxygen deficiency caused by absorption of grains
  • carbon monoxide build up in wells from the exhaust of an operating internal combustion engine if it is located near the well's opening
  • the presence of contaminants in the atmosphere caused by disturbing decomposed organic material in a bin, letting out toxic substances
  • the build-up and release of gases like ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in manure pits
  • suffocation caused by solids such as grain, sand or fertiliser.

Incidents

You should notify WHSQ of a dangerous incident that occurs in relation to working in a confined space.

Preventing incidents

Employers should ensure that people working in a confined space are safe by:

  • placing a stand-by-person outside the confined space to talk to anyone in the confined space and implement emergency procedures if required
  • providing personal protective equipment, and rescue, first-aid and fire suppression equipment
  • providing training
  • supplying safety harnesses and safety (or rescue) lines where there is a danger of falling while entering or leaving the confined space
  • erecting signs that show entry is only permitted after signing the entry permit
  • ensuring the area is well ventilated.

What laws apply?

The specific requirements for confined spaces are located in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (PDF, 2.53 MB) (WHS Regulation), Part 4.3 – Confined spaces, and apply only to those confined spaces that are entered by, intended or likely to be entered by, or could inadvertently be entered by any person.

The  provides guidance on managing the risks associated with confined spaces.

Last updated
04 April 2017

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