3M research into confined spaces injuries and fatalities revealed that between 2005 and 2009, globally, 481 people, or 1.85 per week, died while working within confined spaces.
With confined spaces being a feature of most work sites across all industrial sectors, the challenges that come with ensuring safety of employees in the sector show the need to provide insights and training into the best processes for arriving at the right solution for diverse work environments.
Addressing a workshop on confined space rescue at 3M’s Johannesburg offices, emergency medical specialist Rudi Menkveld said that, “The statistics show the importance of businesses paying increased attention to health and safety within the sector.
“With over 61 percent of these incidents having occurred during construction, repairing and/or cleaning activities, we have turned our attention to accident prevention, and in the worst-case scenario, rescuing workers safely, by using the right equipment for the environment.”
Danger can arise when there is a lack of oxygen or if workers are suddenly faced with poisonous gas, fumes or vapours. Breathing apparatus is essential if the air is compromised.
While the global tally does not include serious injuries, it showcases opportunities to improve these work environments.
“The key to preventing accidents and, in the worst case, rescuing workers, is the right equipment”, notes Anderson Cilliers, Market Segment Lead – Fall Protection, 3M. He argues that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
“Confined spaces often have constrained openings for entry and exit. Therefore, a thorough investigation of each space’s unique characteristics must be undertaken to ensure that one fully understands not only how to access and work within the space, but its surrounding environment,” he explains.
“Once that is completed, one can then look at what the right combination of equipment would be for that particular job. Safety has to be paramount in all work environments, but particularly in confined spaces which are inherently risky and not designed with human occupancy in mind.”
He adds that the process of choosing the right fall protection and retrieval equipment should be integrated into a company’s risk management processes.
Aside from providing a range of the requisite equipment, 3M consults with clients to help them craft the most appropriate strategy to ensure their employees safety when working in confined spaces.
This includes safe working within, and rescue from, specific confined spaces that the particular company’s employees work in.
3M’s approach is to look at what the applicable local and international health and safety standards and regulations are, as well the specific company policy, and then develop a strategy that takes these all into account.
This ensures compliance with applicable legislation and policies, but it often goes further than this. The strategy would dictate the best equipment to use both for normal working and rescue.
Another key element covered at the workshop was the need for optimal communication. 3M’s Marc Husselman covered the principles of choosing the right communications equipment to suit the conditions within specific confined spaces.
“3M believes that in order to make sure you have the right equipment for your site’s confined spaces, it is vital to adopt a holistic approach.
“Such an approach encompasses the actual conditions of each site, complies with all applicable legislation and policies, and pre-eminently, promotes the safety of your personnel at all times,” Mr Cilliers concludes.