Every year people are killed or seriously injured whilst working in confined spaces. To reduce the risk of fatalities and injuries, the Confined Spaces Regulations (1997) were introduced to identify and reduce risks from working in confined spaces.
For those who work in confined spaces, COVID-19 presents additional challenges. In this article, we discuss the effects of the pandemic on working in confined spaces, confined space regulations and confined space training.
Confined Space Regulations 1997
The regulations state that a confined space has two defining features. Firstly, it is a place which is substantially (though not always entirely) enclosed and, secondly, there will be a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby (“specified risk”).
A specified risk can either be:
- Injury caused by fire or explosion
- Loss of consciousness caused by an increase in body temperature
- Loss of consciousness or asphyxiation caused by gas, fume, vapour, or lack of oxygen
- Asphyxiation caused by a free-flowing solid or the inability to reach safety due to entrapment by a free-flowing solid
It should be noted that the specified risk may not always be there; it may be introduced by the nature of the work, i.e. cutting, welding, spray painting. Where this is the case, it will be a confined space until the work activities have ceased, and the atmosphere has returned to normal.
In our ‘Working in Confined Spaces Regulations Guide’ we explain the regulations in full, what they mean and why they are important.
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) & Working in Confined Spaces
There has been no new guidance or changes to the regulations for working in confined spaces during the coronavirus pandemic. However, when entry into a confined space is being contemplated then a risk assessment is always the starting point for developing a safe system of entry and work in the confined space.
It is the employer’s responsibility to carry out a risk assessment and identify the hazards and controls required to minimize risk. Coronavirus should be included as a hazard on the risk assessment. When risk assessing, PPE should be the last resort considered using the hierarchy of controls. Within a confined space social distancing may be difficult to achieve, therefor consideration should be given providing additional PPE i.e. nitrile gloves to be worn underneath normal workwear gloves.
Some of the additional controls MRS has put in place for confined space training undertaken at their centres, and also by their team of rescue operatives working in confined spaces at customer’s premises during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic may also be relevant to others working in confined spaces. The MRS measures include:
- A one-way system in our confined space training tunnels
- 2m safe distancing areas marked out where candidates can safely remove their facemasks after entering and fit their escape sets
- Non-sharing of breathing apparatus
- Social distancing must be carried out wherever practicable
- Eye protection must be worn
- Face to face contact should be avoided where practicable
- Skin to skin contact must be avoided
- Disposable nitrile gloves must always be worn and should be supplemented by other hand protection where required by risk assessment
- Any used breathing apparatus, oxygen resuscitator, analgesic gas or other equipment potentially contaminated with moist droplets emitted from someone’s mouth must be withdrawn by the individual wearer (where applicable), placed into its own bag and then placed into a disposable bag which must be tied off. Then deep cleaned before reuse.
Confined Spaces Training During COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
We are running our full suite of Confined Space courses, but to comply with COVID-19 regulations we have made the following changes:
- Candidates should not attend if they are either symptomatic or someone in their household is symptomatic or have shown positive in a Covid-19 test.
- The classroom will be set up to ensure minimum social distancing requirements are met (i.e. minimum 2m distance between candidates and between candidates and trainer/assessor)
- Candidates should not attempt to enter the building until 15 minutes before the course state time
- Candidate should bring their own lunch and snacks
- Candidates will be expected to comply with the social distancing, hygiene and other controls on site
- Candidate may be expected to wear a facemask, which will be provided by MRS. If they have already been issued one by their employer they should bring it with them
We have also made some changes to the practical exercises we run as part of our confined space courses with regards to the equipment used in order to ensure we have the appropriate controls in place to manage the risk of COVID-19. Examples of controls include:
- All worn PPE is placed in its bag by the wearer at the end of each day and then placed into a further disposable bag and tied off. This avoids multiple handing of the PPE.
- Training has been adapted and numbers reduced on courses to ensure social distancing is maintained
- Increasing the amount of equipment available to eliminate the need to share
- Reinforcing our sanitation processes to reduce the risk of transfer
Some of these may be of interest to anyone completing risk assessment for working in a confined space.
For more information about the COVID-19 safety measures we have implemented read our COVID-19 Safe Confined Space Training FAQs.
Live Virtual Confined Space Training
Furthermore, against the backdrop of Covid-19, and understanding people may wish to reduce travel and social contact, new live virtual training courses have been developed to enable people to train from anywhere they choose.
MRS has developed a Live Virtual Classroom Medium Risk Confined Space Course as an alternative to the onsite 2-day Medium Risk Confined Space course. This option allows candidates to complete the knowledge element of the course in a live virtual classroom environment, followed by one day of practical training and assessment at any of our training centres.
Confined Spaces Re-Certification Courses
At the start of lockdown, many training organisations and awarding bodies acknowledged the need to review their requirements for renewing qualifications that were due to lapse during this period. With so many businesses closed, and employees furloughed, renewing certificates became very difficult, so many organisations provided an extension period to offer breathing space and support.
City and Guilds was one of these awarding bodies and they announced that any certificates that expired after the 1 March 2020 would continue to be valid until 31 July 2021 to allow individuals the opportunity to re-qualify once lockdown eased.
Anyone now wishing to renew their confined space qualifications can do so now.
The confined space requalification courses available from MRS Training and Rescue include:
All are available with MRS Training & Rescue or City & Guilds certification.
We also offer an Open Circuit Breathing Apparatus Refresher course that complies with HSE guidelines and BS EN 529: 2005 Respiratory Protective Devices and meets the requirements of the National Occupational Standards for confined space entries (City & Guilds 6150). Delegates receive an MRS Training & Rescue Certificate on successful completion of this course.