Confined spaces FAQs

The following FAQs cover information which will:

  • assist areas to identify if a workspace falls within the definition of a confined space;
  • assist areas to determine basic entry and training requirements;
  • give Schools/Branches guidance and examples on how to manage the hazards (including risk assessment) which are specific to confined space entry; and
  • assist Schools/Branches meet the requirements of the Hazard Management chapter of the HSW Handbook.

If you are required to enter a "Confined Space" the processes outlined in the WHS Legislation (SA) must be followed (i.e. WHS Act 2012 s19, WHS Regulations 2012 s62-77, Code of Practice for Confined Spaces.)

(Printable version)

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  • What is a confined space?

    In accordance with the WHS Regulations (2012, s5 - Definitions), a confined space is an enclosed or partially enclosed space that:

    • is not designed or intended primarily to be occupied by a person; and
    • is, or is designed or intended to be, at normal atmospheric pressure while any person is in the space; and
    • is or is likely to be a risk to health and safety from:
    • an atmosphere that does not have a safe oxygen level, or
    • contaminants, including airborne gases, vapours and dusts, that may cause injury from fire or explosion, or
    • harmful concentrations of any airborne contaminants, or
    • engulfment.

    Confined spaces are commonly found in vats, tanks, pits, pipes, ducts, flues, chimneys, silos, containers, pressure vessels, underground sewers, wet or dry wells, shafts, trenches, tunnels or other similar enclosed or partially enclosed structures, when these examples meet the definition of a confined space in the WHS Regulations.

    A confined space does not include:

    • a mine or the workings of a mine
    • places intended for human occupancy and have adequate ventilation, lighting and safe means of entry and exit, such as offices and workshops
    • some enclosed or partially enclosed spaces that at particular times have harmful airborne contaminants but are designed for a person to occupy, for example abrasive blasting or spray painting booths
    • enclosed or partially enclosed spaces that are designed to be occasionally occupied by a person if the space has a readily and conveniently accessible means of entry and exit via a doorway at ground level, for example:
    • a cool store accessed by a LPG forklift to move stock – although the use of a LPG forklift in a cool store can be hazardous, the door at ground level means that once the alarm is raised, escape and rescue can happen quickly; and
    • a fumigated shipping container with a large ground level opening which will facilitate easy escape and rescue.
    • Trenches are not considered confined spaces based on the risk of structural collapse alone, but will be confined spaces if they potentially contain concentrations of airborne contaminants that may cause impairment, loss of consciousness or asphyxiation.
  • What is considered as 'entry' into a confined space?

    Entry is considered to have occurred when a person’s head or upper body enters the space.  A space may become a confined space if work that is to be carried out in the space would generate harmful concentrations of airborne contaminants.

    (Code of Practice for Confined Spaces 1.4)

  • If entry into a confined space is required, then what do I need to do?

    As a minimum:

    • ensure you have a confined space entry team (i.e. usually a minimum of two people, the worker entering the space and the standby person.)
    • identify the hazards and complete a risk assessment (See "What are the types of hazards associated with working in a confined space?" and "How do I apply the principles of risk management to confined spaces?").
    • conduct atmospheric testing and monitoring (See "Do I need to conduct atmospheric testing and monitoring?").
    • ensure you have a documented emergency evacuation plan and all parties are aware of arrangements prior to entry.
    • ensure you have appropriate “fail-safe” communication systems.
    • ensure you have completed a confined space permit.  (See "What is a confined space entry permit?" and Confined Space Entry - Sample Control Measures
    • ensure signs are erected before any work in relation to a confined space starts to prevent entry of persons not involved in the work.  (See "Do confined spaces need to be identified by signage?")
    • ensure that air supplied respiratory equipment is available for use by, and is provided to, the worker in an emergency where:
      • the atmosphere in the confined space does not have a safe oxygen level; or
      • the atmosphere in the space has a harmful concentration of an airborne contaminant; or
      • there is a serious risk of the atmosphere in the space becoming affected while the worker is in the space.
    • ensure all personnel involved have attended competency based training.

    Training must be provided to workers who:

    • enter or work in confined spaces
    • undertake hazard identification or risk assessment in relation to a confined space
    • implement risk control measures
    • issue entry permits
    • act as a standby person or communicate with workers in a confined space
    • monitor conditions while work is being carried out
    • purchase equipment for confined space work
    • design or lay out a work area that includes a confined space.

    The training provided to relevant workers must cover:

    • the nature of all hazards associated with a confined space
    • the need for, and appropriate use of, risk control measures
    • the selection, use, fit, testing and storage of any personal protective equipment
    • the contents of any relevant confined space entry permit
    • emergency procedures.
  • What are the types of hazards associated with working in a confined space?

    Confined spaces pose dangers because they usually have poor ventilation which allows hazardous atmospheres to develop quickly, especially if the space is small.  The hazards are not always obvious and may change from one entry to the next.

    Examples of the specific hazards you may need to consider are provided below.

    Hazard Examples
    Restricted entry and/or exit
    • A small entrance may make it difficult to rescue a worker (e.g. if injured/ill) or to get equipment in/out of the space safely.
    • If access is via ladder it may be difficult to rescue a worker (e.g. if the opening is high up in a silo).
    Harmful airborne contaminants
    • Build up or release of toxic substances in sewers and pits.
    The task performed in the space
    • Use of paints, adhesives, solvents or cleaning solutions.
    • Welding or brazing with metals capable of producing toxic fumes.
    • Exhaust fumes from engines used in the confined space.
    Entry of natural contaminants such as groundwater and gases from surrounding land, soil or strata
    • Acid groundwater acting on limestone with potential to produce dangerous accumulations of carbon dioxide.
    • Methane released from groundwater and from decay of organic matter.
    Release of airborne contaminants
    • Sludge, slurry or other deposits.
    Manufacturing process
    • Residue left in tanks, vessels etc or remaining on internal surfaces can evaporate into a gas or vapour.
    Unsafe oxygen level
    (less than 19.5% or greater than 23.5%)
    • Oxygen displaced by gases produced during biological processes.
    • Displaced during purging of a confined space with an inert gas.
    • Consumed and therefore depleted inside metal tanks and vessels.
    • Absorbed or reacts with grains, chemicals or soils in sealed silos.
    • Oxygen enriched atmospheres if chemical reactions cause the production of oxygen.
    • Oxygen enriched atmospheres if there is a leak of oxygen from an oxygen tank or fitting while using oxy-acetylene equipment.
    Fire or explosion
    • An ignition source such as a sparking or electrical tool, including from static on a person is introduced into a space containing a flammable atmosphere.
    Engulfment
    • Swallowed up or immersed by sand, liquids, grain, animal feed.
    Uncontrolled introduction of substances
    • Steam, water or other liquids, gases or solids may result in drowning, or being overcome by fumes.
    • Vehicles and LPG forklifts operating close to the opening of the confined space can cause a build-up of exhaust gases including carbon monoxide in the space.
    Biological hazards
    • Contact with micro-organisms, such as viruses, bacteria or fungi may result in infectious diseases, dermatitis or lung conditions such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis.  Sewers, grain silos and manure pits are examples where biological hazards may be present.
    Mechanical hazards
    • Entanglement, crushing, cutting, piercing or shearing of parts of a person’s body if exposed to plant such as augers, agitators, blenders, mixers and stirrers.
    Electrical hazards
    • Electrocution, shocks or burns could arise from cables, transformers, capacitors, relays, exposed terminals and wet surfaces where electrical circuits and electrically powered plant are used.
    Skin contact with hazardous substances
    • Surfaces of the confined space may be contaminated with hazardous substances which could cause a burn, irritation or allergic dermatitis or longer-term systemic effects.
    Manual tasks
    • Hazards arising from manual tasks may be exacerbated by physical constraints associated with working in a confined space.
    Noise
    • Noise generated from the use of plant, the work method or process may be amplified due to reflections off hard surfaces.  Exposure to hazardous noise may result in hearing loss, tinnitus and other non-auditory health effects.  Hazardous noise may also prevent workers hearing warning signals and distract workers from their work.
    Personal protective equipment
    • Hazards may arise from the use of personal protective equipment which restricts movement, grip and mobility.
    Radiation
    • Radioactive sources (ionising and non-ionising), lasers, welding flash, radio frequency and microwaves.
    Hazards outside the confined space
    • Where the confined space has a vertical opening, there is a risk that people could fall in.  Persons at risk include those assisting the confined space entry (e.g. standby person) and pedestrians.
    • Where the confined space entrance is located on footpaths or roads.
    • Where work is being conducted by a third party outside the space but near the opening (e.g. a person conducting hot work adjacent to a confined space that has a flammable atmosphere.)
    Additional physiological and psychological demands
    • Physical ability of the person to conduct the work.
    • Possibility of a person being claustrophobic.
    • Ability to wear the personal protective equipment required to do the work (e.g. respirators).
    Heat
    • Heat stress (e.g. working in a silo which is positioned in full sun on a hot day)
    Mobile confined space
    • Mobile/moveable silos
  • How do I apply the principles of risk management to confined spaces?

    If an area of work falls within the definition of a “confined space” (i.e. as per "What is a confined space?") a risk assessment must be completed and the risk assessment is to be in accordance with the Hazard Management chapter of the HSW Handbook (which includes the risk assessment tool).

    A number of examples of hazards have been provided in "What are the types of hazards associated with working in a confined space?".  Examples of control measures for associated hazards are provided for your information and consideration in Confined Space Entry - Sample Control Measures.

    A confined space risk assessment template is provided in Confined Space Entry- Hazard Identification Checklist (Word Doc/PDF)

    In accordance with legislative requirements the risk assessment process must be conducted by a competent person before conducting any tasks associated with the confined space.  (WHS Regulations 2012 s66)

    The assessment must be conducted in consultation with workers involved in, or working adjacent, to the confined space.

    Records must be kept in accordance with the Hazard Management handbook chapter.

  • Do I need to conduct atmospheric testing and monitoring when entering a confined space?

    Yes.  This is a routine part of determining appropriate risk controls.  The testing is carried out by a competent person using a suitable, correctly calibrated gas detector (to be arranged through the School/Branch).

    Initial testing should be done from outside the confined space by inserting a sample probe at appropriate selected access holes, nozzles and openings and at different levels, the top, middle and bottom, as some gases are heavier than air.

    In accordance with the Code of Practice for Confined Spaces if it is not reasonably practicable to ensure the confined space contains a safe oxygen level, or safe levels of airborne contaminants, then appropriate respiratory protective equipment must be provided. The respiratory protective equipment should be provided and worn in situations where there is no exposure standard for a substance, or where the substance is present in an unknown concentration.

    Respiratory protective equipment refers to a range of breathing equipment, including air-supplied and self-contained breathing apparatus. The appropriate respiratory protective equipment should be based on the level and type of contaminants and the work to be done. Whenever there is any doubt about the type of respiratory protective equipment required, a conservative approach should be adopted (for instance, use air-supplied respiratory equipment).

    Further details for atmospheric testing and monitoring can be found in WHS Regulations 2012 s71 and Code of Practice for Confined Spaces section 4.

  • What is a confined space entry permit?

    The entry permit is a checklist to ensure that all elements of a safe system of work are in place before people are allowed to enter the confined space.

    It also provides:

    • a means of communication between site management, supervisors and those carrying out the work; and
    • authorisation for entry to the confined space is safe to proceed.

    In accordance with WHS Legislation a worker is not allowed to enter a confined space unless a completed and signed confined space entry permit is issued by a competent person and in writing.

    An entry permit is to be issued for each entry.  An example of an entry permit is provided (Word Doc/PDF)

    Schools/Branches can opt to use this template, the template in Code of Practice for Confined Spaces or their own provided the template meets the requirements of the legislation.

    The written permit authority is to be displayed/available in a prominent place (e.g. adjacent to the confined space).

    In accordance with the WHS Regulations (Section 67), the entry permit must include:

    • the confined space to which the permit relates;
    • the names of persons permitted to enter the space;
    • the period of time during which the work in the space will be carried out;
    • measures to control risk associated with the proposed work in the space; and
    • contain space for an acknowledgement that work in the confined space has been completed and that all persons have left the confined space.

    (See Code of Practice for Confined Spaces 5.4)

  • What are the requirements for contractors entering a confined space?

    Where a contractor is engaged by the University, the person engaging the contractor is required to provide the contractor with information about the hazards associated with that space (if known).  The contractor is required to conduct the risk assessment and complete the confined space entry permit in accordance with legislative requirements.

    The contractor’s entry permit is to be displayed in a prominent place whilst they are conducting the activity.

    The contractor’s confined space records are to be kept on file by the School/Branch (e.g. Induction records, risk assessments/Job Safety Analysis etc.) relating to the project.  See the Contractor Management chapter for further information.

    (Further information for contractors is available from the Infrastructure service requests at each campus, or phone 8313 4008 or the project manager.)

  • Do confined spaces need to be identified by signage?

    Confined spaces should at all times be secured against unauthorised entry and, where practicable, permanently signposted.

    Before any work in relation to a confined space starts, signs must be erected at each entrance to the confined space to prevent and warn other persons, not involved in the work, and against entry.  This includes when preparing to work in the space, during work in the space and when packing up on completion of the work.

    Signposting alone should not be relied on to prevent unauthorised entry to a potential confined space. Security devices, for example locks and fixed barriers, should be installed.

    (See Code of Practice for Confined Spaces 5.9)

    The signs should comply with AS 1319.

    confined space sign
  • Is a standby person required when entering a confined space?

    Before a worker enters a confined space, a standby person must be within the vicinity of the space, be assigned to continuously monitor the wellbeing and condition of those inside the space, observe the work being carried out (where practicable) and initiate appropriate emergency procedures when necessary.

    A system of work is to be provided to enable continuous communication with the worker(s) from outside the confined space.

    The standby person should:

    • understand the nature of the hazards inside the particular confined space and be able to recognise signs and symptoms that workers in the confined space may experience
    • remain outside the confined space and do no other work which may interfere with their primary role of monitoring the workers inside the space
    • have all required rescue equipment (for example, safety harnesses, lifting equipment, a lifeline) immediately available
    • have the authority to order workers to exit the space if any hazardous situation arises

    The standby person should never enter the space to attempt rescue and should have the authority to order workers to exit the space if any hazardous situation arises.

    (See Code of Practice for Confined Spaces 5.7)

  • What communication methods are considered appropriate for confined spaces?

    Communication will depend on the confined space and may be achieved verbally, by radio, by hand signals or by hard wired communications.  Arrangements are to be recorded on the Risk Assessment.

    (See Code of Practice for Confined Spaces 5.7)

  • What confined spaces are Schools/Branches responsible for?

    Infrastructure Branch Other Schools/Branches
    Are responsible for the management of confined spaces associated with the University’s Infrastructure. 

    Please contact Infrastructure service centre if there is a requirement to enter an identified confined space or your project manager (as applicable).

    Are responsible for any confined space that they have created or acquired. 

    Please contact your School/Branch
    Health and Safety Officer for further information.

  • What confined spaces records are Schools/Branches required to keep?

    In accordance with legislative requirements, the School/Branch responsible for the space (i.e. as identified above) is required to keep, either electronically or in hard copy:

  • Where can I get more information about confined spaces?

    • WHS Legislation
    • Approved Code of Practice for Confined Spaces
    • Australian Standards
      • AS 2865 Confined spaces
      • AS/NZS 1715 and AS/NZS 1716 Respiratory protective devices

      For further information, the following Australian Standards are relevant to this activity:
      • AS/NZS 1891 Safety harnesses lines and lifting equipment
      • AS/NZS 3000, 3100 and AS/NZS 3190, AS/NZS 3191 Electrical and portable electrical equipment
      • AS/NZS 60079 series where an electrical apparatus is to be used in an explosive gas atmosphere
      • AS/NZS 61779 when using electrical equipment for the detection and measurement of flammable gases
      • AS 1319 Safety signs for the occupational environment
      • AS 4024 Safety of machinery

      Australian Standards can be accessed through Techstreet.

    Training providers for Confined Spaces
    Please refer to the HSW website and Provision of information, instruction and training.

    University HSW Contacts:

Further information

Please contact your local HSW team.