General Guidance for Employers

Working in a confined space is a high risk activity and the potential for incidents resulting in fatalities are compounded by the nature of the hazards present.

Below is some general guidance for employers.

Between 2000-2012

59 workers were killed

conducting work in confined spaces*

(1) Assess the Risks

An experienced operator with the right training, knowledge and skills must prepare a written assessment covering all the possible risks with regards to entering or working in or near a confined space. That person needs to review and revise this risk assessment regularly to allow for any environmental or workspace changes that might affect safe work. This risk assessment should include:

(2) Use a Permit

Before someone enters a confined space, there must be an authorised entry permit (written by a competent person and signed off by a supervisor/safety officer) that includes:

(3) Erect Signs and Barricades

Prominently display signs near the confined space entries banning entry to anyone not listed on the entry permit. Also, install locks and fixed barriers.

(4) Communicate with and monitor those inside

A stand-by person/sentry must continuously monitor the conditions inside a confined space from outside the space where they can observe the work being carried out. There must be a suitable entry and exit procedure in place, be able to maintain communication with the team at all times, and a clear and effective emergency procedures when the need arises. The stand-by person must never enter the space to attempt a rescue.

(5) Isolate services

Minimise or, if you can, eliminate risks resulting from any plant or services connected to the confined space. Also, prevent contaminants entering the space through pipes, ducts, vents, drains, conveyors and the like.

(6) Make sure the air is safe

Clean the air in the space regularly, keep it well ventilated, safely purge any contaminants, and carry out atmospheric testing before anyone enters. Use an appropriate respirator/oxygen supply (SCBA or airline) if you are unable to maintain safe oxygen levels.

(7) Get rid of ignition sources

Get rid of all ignition sources that could cause a fire or explosion. Ensure the amount of flammable gas, vapour or mist in the space is less than five per cent of its lower explosive limit (LEL). If the LEL is greater than five but less than 10 per cent, you must use a flammable gas detector and if the LEL is greater than 10 per cent, no-one should be in the space.

(8) Have emergency procedures

Your workplace must have good first aid and rescue procedures, and you need to practise them.

Make sure openings in the space are large enough to allow emergency access and are not obstructed. Also, make sure appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), like air-supplied respiratory equipment, is made available to workers carrying out emergency tasks.

Finally, keep plant, equipment and PPE in good working order.

(9) Train your workers

Your workers and their supervisors must understand the risks of a confined space, the controls that are in place, what they need to do and what a permit allows.

There are several nationally recognised courses that can be undertaken in confined spaces, including but not limited to:

  • DEFWHS013 Control Entry to Confined Spaces
  • MSMWHS217 Gas Test Atmospheres
  • RIIWHS202E Enter and Work in Confined Spaces
  • RIIWHS401E Supervise work in Confined Spaces
  • PUASAR025 Undertake Confined Space Rescue
  • MSMWHS216 Operate Breathing Apparatus

(10) Keep Records

Keep a copy of your risk assessment for at least 28 days after the work in the space has finished and keep a copy of the permit at least until the work is completed. If there is an incident in the space, keep the records for at least two years.

Keep a record of worker training for two years.

These records must be made available to us and any worker upon request.