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Managing confined spaces

31 January 2017

For many years the conundrum faced by many in the construction industry was ‘how do we deal with entering and working in confined spaces safely’. In order to help address these anomalies, legislation specifically focused on confined spaces was enacted in 1997. However, the day to day issues associated with these spaces still exist and are analysed further by Captain Michael Lloyd, marine consultant at MRS Training and Rescue.

Some years ago our experiences and observations whilst operating in confined spaces led us to conclude that the root causes of most problems lay in one of four directly related areas: Design; Equipment; Training; and Culture.


Human activity within the space should always be the prime consideration and it must be seen as the starting point in the design cycle. Safety procedures, training and specialist equipment can be put in place when the workplace is completed but the design of the spaces will determine the effectiveness of those measures. In any design of a space where human entry is required the following should be the criteria:

  1. Adequate room at the entry point for equipment (entry or rescue)
  2. Ease of access into and out off the space
  3. Ease of movement within the space
  4. The ability to undertake rescue operations.


During our operations as a rescue organisation, we are constantly evaluating confined space equipment. As part of this evaluation, we meet with manufacturers, test equipment and have been influential in improving equipment design for specific industrial applications thus ensuring it not only does what we want it to but that it is  ‘fit for purpose’.

Consideration of confined space equipment should always include:

  • Personal Protection (PPE)
  • Entry equipment
  • Rescue equipment.


Training is one of the most important preparatory aspects for working in confined spaces. No person should enter any space until they are ‘adequately trained’ and fully aware of all procedures associated with that entry. Much is made of the word competent, in the instance of Confined Spaces, competence is exactly what personnel should have before entering the space.

Competence, is based on knowledge of:

  • What procedures should be in place before entry
  • What equipment should be taken into the space for personal safety
  • How individuals should conduct themselves whilst in the space
  • Most importantly - what to do in the event of something going wrong.


In the context of safety and in particular the way in which it is used as part of the confined space box, it means our attitude toward the confined space problem. Culture is like water, it flows down, the higher it starts the faster it flows. Part of this culture is an appreciation of the requirement to manage the confined spaces for which management has responsibility.

Managing your spaces

To be able to effectively manage these spaces we suggest that an audit of what and where these spaces are, risk rate the space (High, Medium or Low) and of any likely problems that may be caused by their entry point and internal design features.

During a study of an array of differing industries, it became apparent that very few could readily identify or had compiled a sufficiently detailed audit of those spaces that could be a potential hazard to those entering. Any such system should be able to provide a computerised database in order to identify, record and store all information on these spaces by drawing together risk assessments and other safety related documentation.

This system should also have the ability to:

  • Define and categorise each space and is intended to be a ‘living document’
  • Record and upload photographs, (video), and company safety procedures relevant to the assessment and clearly indicates their presence on the system
  • Allow the user to input condition reports
  • Be implemented at any site regardless of their disparity in size or type
  • Provide instant up to date information to both the site and any remote controlling offices (such as an HQ function)
  • Allow third parties, (such as contractors), to view information prior to entry thereby pre planning the work
  • Compile a definitive list of all confined spaces at the site
  • Provide an ‘output report’ of the current status of the space.


This has been an all too brief summary of what is a complex problem in many industries today. Hopefully, we have introduced some thought provoking information that will inspire management to look at the ‘confined space conundrum’ in a different way.