Despite the significant amount that has been published about the dangers of confined space entry, recent evidence in the news suggests that people still do not fully understand the risks or take appropriate precautions. In the news this week, Dorset farm owner has been fined for serious safety failings after one of his workers died following exposure to toxic gases escaping from a tank during tank maintenance.
Even when a confined space is obvious, it can be very easy to be complacent and so get caught out. If it was safe before, it should be safe now; right? Unfortunately not!! Environments can change, either deliberately, e.g. through engineering changes, or just naturally, over time. In this case, the tank roof had been opened five times prior to the incident, however it was not designed for routine removal and the risks were not understood. On a previous occasion in 2008, another farm worker fell unconscious after he was exposed to toxic gas when replacing the clamps that held the roof seal in place. Despite masks being supplied after this, workers were never trained in their use and they were taken off once the roof was removed in the mistaken belief that the danger had passed.
What happened at that farm demonstrates the importance of understanding the risks of each individual confined space and having safe working systems in place. The need for specialist skills and training also has to be recognised. Only once the real nature of the hazards posed by confined spaces becomes more widely understood can we hope to see no more accidents arising from them.