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IOSH Hazardous Industries Group Webinar: Confined Spaces – What are they, and the importance of rescue plans

7th March 2024
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Last week, two of our confined space experts, Paul Antcliffe and Dave Watson, delivered a FREE webinar run by IOSH Hazardous Industries Group.

With nearly 350 people registering for the webinar, it proved to be a popular topic.

The scope of the webinar

The webinar was hosted by Neil Blacklock, SHEQ Practitioner at Rainham Industrial Services. While Paul was on hand to answer any questions, Dave delivered an engaging presentation that discussed the following:

  • Principle and Standard Protocols of working – why we need to do what we do.
  • Confined Space classifications - what they really mean in terms of safety risks and requirements.
  • Hazards you can encounter - Drawing from real-life experiences, including a near-miss incident involving dangerously low oxygen levels in a trench on a construction site, Dave shared insights into potential confined space hazards.
  • The Confined Space flowchart that helps you determine if you have a confined space.
  • Preparing to enter and exit confined spaces safely - and what to consider.
  • Typical equipment to use.
  • Emergency situations and the need for a rescue plan – that is also tested out to ensure it works if needed.
screenshot from IOSH webinar discussing confined space hazards

Webinar Q&A

At the end of the presentation, there followed a Q&A session. Paul and Dave answered as many questions as they could in the time, but the rest had to be answered by email afterwards.

screenshot from IOSH webinar with Neil Blacklock beginning Q&A session

Those questions were as follows – and answers given also provided:

Question #1:

Is there any brand of stretcher and BA you recommend for use for confined space rescue? I predominately work in the utility industry (NC2 - 4) and am reviewing what’s on the market currently.


The brand of stretcher we use for flexibility and ease of use in the Abtech Slix100 rescue stretcher. We do use other stretchers depending on the situation, but we find the Slix is the best for confined spaces. As it wraps around a casualty like a tube, it helps get a person through narrow openings without getting caught up and offers some protection during transportation/extrication. 

The Slix also has colour coded securing straps and vertical and horizontal lifting strops. As for Breathing Apparatus (B) if you mean escape breathing apparatus, MRS Training & Rescue have evaluated and use as our preferred BA, the Drager Saver CF10 or CF15 hooded type.

If it is working Open circuit breathing apparatus, then we use the Drager Air Boss Open circuit breathing apparatus. As with both answers there are also other brands available on the market. MRS also use MSA Savox Chemical oxygen escape sets with a 30-minute duration for use in tunnels and culverts or where longer escape duration may be required.

Question #2:

Our workplace mandates rescue equipment at the space for every task. Is this a requirement anywhere in guidance etc, or would this fall into the risk assessment, meaning as long as there are preparations and these can be accessed and retrieved to worksite in a timely manner it would be fine?


If this was a single entry, we would prefer to have the equipment already set up and established at the entry point area in a safe place. Sometimes the rescue/retrieval equipment is also used as the access equipment and provides fall arrest if using a ladder and retrieval options if a person should fall or become incapacitated. 

If you have multiple entries, then the equipment may be located at a central location and should be checked and fit for purpose and in a state of readiness before any entries take place. The trained and competent rescue team need to know its location, and it should be easily accessible and not locked during entries. 

If the rescue team is site based, they should have appropriate information, instruction and training. If this does not require the use of breathing apparatus, we call this training NON-BA Rescue training - and it is normally a day of extra training that is bolted onto a normal medium confined space training course.

Question #3:

Is there a recommended training refresher frequency?


Yes, the recommended refresher period is usually 3 years from issue of certificate. City & Guilds do not recognise refresher training any longer and the full course has to be undertaken again. MRS can of course provide this accredited training. 

However, we and other training providers do still recognise refresher training of shorter duration, so the training you choose will depend on if you need to achieve or maintain C&G status certification or not.

Question #4:

Are there any requirements for lifting devices for rescue?


If a confined space primary access is by portable or fixed ladder, then a device with a safety retrieval line (SRL) can be used as a shock block to arrest a fall and can be put into a recovery mode as a retrieval winch. 

If a confined space is being entered vertically with no ladder, then a LOLER (Lifting operations and Lifting equipment regulations 1998) certified man riding winch must be used to lift or lower a person as a primary means.

There must also be a secondary fall arrest system with retrieval capability (such as an SRL) attached to the person to be used in the event of failure of the primary device. 

Any confined space rescue lifting/lowering equipment should be checked prior to use and, as laid down in the LOLER regulations, visually inspected every 6 months by competent person and annually by an approved service centre /engineer. Also, it is important to follow manufacturer’s instructions as they may contain more specific servicing periods relevant to that item of equipment.

Question #5:

What is the frequency of Health screening for the employees who engaged with confined space entry work?


There is no mandatory period set out in the confined regulations and this is down to the employer to decide. 

Most reputable companies would want the decision to deem a person fit to be carried out by occupational health professional Doctor/Nurse. MRS employ our own occupational health registered nurse to screen our operators at first employment and then annually. 

This is good practice to ensure your employees that are working in confined spaces are fit to do so. There are occupational health service providers available nationwide that can provide this service.

Question #6:

*Reworded for clarity*

If a confined space contains residue of flammable gas and purging with fresh air is not recommended due to potential oxygen mixture, is it safe to first purge with nitrogen gas and then test the oxygen level afterward to ensure it's safe for further purging?


To be clear 100% oxygen should not be used in any circumstances for purging. Increasing Oxygen to a possible flammable substance could push it to its explosive limit, so it may benefit in purging the space with nitrogen to remove the flammable substance. 

After this the Nitogen would require purging/removing with air that contains oxygen at 20.97% to get the Oxygen levels back to the required limits. Mechanical ventilation may be required for this process but consider the explosive risk when selecting mechanical ventilation fans.

As extracting air containing flammable gas over fan blades is hazardous, specialist advice should be sought when purging flammable gas using nitrogen and re-purging with breathable air.

Question #7:

Should first aiders enter the space, or should we try to get the person out of the space first?


If they are not confined space trained, they should not enter. If they are trained it depends to what level of confined space training and the level of risk they are entering (example, someone with medium risk confined space training should not enter a high-risk entry confined space as the hazards present may be detrimental to the first aider.) 

Any person selected to be a confined space rescuer should also have an appropriate level of first aid training.

Question #8:

How often should people entering confined spaces have a health surveillance check?


MRS screen our operators annually. This is good practice to ensure your employees that are working in confined spaces are fit to do so.

Question #9:

How can we know that the natural ventilation isn't sufficient, and we need to make artificial ventilation before we start working, especially if the activity that will be done may alter the content of the atmosphere in the confined space?


We should always test with a gas detector that has the correct sensors fitted. Typically, standard multigas detectors will look at low/high Oxygen, Carbon Monoxide, Hydrogen Sulphide and Flammable gas (normally set for Methane for a minimum of 5 minutes before entering the confined space with a multigas monitor).

The operators should have a portable multigas monitor with them always whilst undertaking work in the confined space. Also, fixed-point monitoring could be used at the workplace for the outside person or control to monitor. 

If any other gases are identified on the risk assessment that is not detected on the multigas monitor, an appropriate monitor could be used alongside the multigas monitor.

Question #10:

What are the guidelines for maintaining good communication in NC3, NC4 and NCX entries?


See https://www.water.org.uk/, then look at this document: ‘OCCASIONAL GUIDANCE NOTE The Classification & Management of Confined Space Entries’. 

Basically, the communication method used must be suitable for the hazards identified on the risk assessment; it must be tried and tested.

Ensure the device is fully charged and maintain regular communication with the entrants, no longer than 5-10 minutes. This can also be logged on the entry log document. 

If the assessment of the confined space requires the use of intrinsically safe equipment due to the potential presence of flammable gas such as methane (could be a live sewer), the communication equipment also needs to be ATEX compliant for use in intrinsically safe environments.

Communication can get complicated in confined spaces due to faraday shielding causing signal disruption. Due to steel work and VHF/UHF radios have limited uses in long tunnels - particularly if not a straight line. 

Technology is advancing quickly and there are now Wi-Fi mesh systems available. There are also cabled communication systems. 

It should be said that maintaining communication at all times is key to maintaining a safe working environment and should always be high on the list of priorities when entering a confined space.

Question #11:

Can you define the rescue training qualification and the entry qualification?


As mentioned earlier, the first level of rescue training is rescue training not requiring the use of a full working breathing apparatus (Non BA Rescue Training). 

There are many confined space entries taking place daily on industrial sites throughout the UK where a hazardous atmosphere is not the specified risk, and - providing the persons carrying out the rescue have been selected, trained and provided with the correct equipment and a methodology of how to execute the rescue safely (RAMS) - the persons on site are probably the best persons to do it.

If however a full working breathing apparatus is required, the rescue qualification can only be taken after the working in high risk confined space training has been successfully undertaken. Then the rescue and recovery of casualty from confined spaces training can be carried out. This can be joined onto the high-risk training or can be done at a later date. 

Awarding body and non-awarding body training courses are available. Also please see the City & Guilds 6160 portfolio of confined space training courses that are available.

Question #12:

What sort of selection criteria do you recommend for rescue teams (fitness, strength, claustrophobia etc)?


As well as details described above, the selection of a rescue team must also include passing a Breathing Apparatus medical to certify they are fit to wear breathing apparatus and they can successfully complete the high risk and rescue and recovery from confined space training course.

It is of course important that the persons selected are the right physical size if small access egress is involved (e.g. a submarine type hatch of a boiler entrance) and it is mentioned in the confined space ACOP (Approved code of practice) that this should be a consideration. 

Previous experience working in confined spaces, not being claustrophobic, being physically capable and of course being motivated and having the right attitude are all valuable feats for prospective rescue team members. 

It would not be good to make someone do this training through pressure if they didn’t want to do it in the first place. 

It should always be considered and is now highly popular throughout industry, where high risk confined spaces are being entered simultaneously and regularly, such as during maintenance shutdowns on sites where there are normally only key personnel running the site or where there is long duration maintenance such as bridge repair, to have dedicated confined space rescue teams at the ready - fully equipped and with pre-determined rescue RAMS.

It is also common now for specialist teams to be used for single tasks over 1 or more days on sites where the required training is not cost effective - and it is better to bring in outside expert assistance. 

You can watch the full webinar at https://youtu.be/loZAXNVbsvI


Book confined space safety training with MRS Training and Rescue

The above Q&A illustrates the technical knowledge of the MRS Training and Rescue team, but our training goes beyond theory. 

With several specialist training facilities across the UK, our confined space specialists can deliver practical training in life-like confined space scenarios, ensuring delegates have the experience and confidence to work safely in these uniquely dangerous environments.

Our confined spaces training courses include:

Low Risk:


Medium Risk:


High Risk:





Final thoughts

It was great to see such engaged reaction to our webinar – and that professionals across various industries are as passionate as us when it comes to working safely in confined spaces.

All our confined space training courses can be book via their corresponding course pages, but if you’d like to make any inquiries before securing a spot for you or your team, please don’t hesitate to contact MRS Training & Rescue today.

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For media enquiries or any other further information about MRS Training and Rescue, please email headoffice@mrsl.co.uk or call us on 01623 423 777

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