Work in confined spaces: Cutting and grinding

August 19th, 2011

You might think it’s just the same job no matter where you do it, but the rules for cutting and grinding change in confined spaces. A recent spate of injuries and fatalities directly related to cutting and grinding work in confined spaces indicates that current safety procedures are inadequate. WorkCover NSW has urged businesses to review their safety procedures and educate employees about correct cutting and grinding practice in confined spaces. Below are some points to prevent the occurrence of more similar incidents.

Don’t wait for an accident-act now
Two workers in Parkes last week realised that all it takes is a single spark to ignite fumes in a small space and start a fire in thin air. Both men were seriously injured suffering burns to their faces, legs and arms.  It is essential for businesses to periodically review  confined space work procedures and consult with workers.
A well documented confined space procedure, training program, confined space entry permit systems and a rehearsed emergency response is vital to manage work in confined spaces. Alternatively, you can contact SHOES to assist develop your confined space systems. Actively implementing your safe working procedures is essential to protect your workers.

Take action
Get practical in managing the danger of grinding, cutting and wielding in, on or around confined spaces. Wherever any compartments such as tanks, containers, vessels exist, which can contain flammable or combustible liquids, the following actions should always be taken.

  1. Assess the hazards by checking for any potentially flammable atmospheres or generation of toxic fumes, which could ignite under intense heat.
  2. Monitor potentially dangerous areas to gain an idea of oxygen levels or gas presence, especially where a flammable atmosphere is not anticipated.
  3. Check for any hidden voids, which may be a source of flammable vapours and ensure there are no unidentified liquids present.
  4. Eliminate flammable substances through ventilation or cleaning.
  5. Write permits detailing the work to be conducted, any potential dangers and necessary precautions taken.
  6. Continually monitor atmosphere in workspace for the duration of the job, as wielding processes may generate toxic materials. Ensure the area is ventilated and respiratory protection worn.
  7. Have someone with appropriate fire fighting equipment  on standby, ready to fight a fire.

Safety first, second and last
Safe cutting and grinding practices in confined spaces is not just about assessing risks beforehand, but means continually monitoring the area for hazardous substances until the work is done. Thorough evaluations of the situation, job requirement and safety procedures will significantly reduce the risk of injury or fatality.  Never persist if any doubt exists about the safety of the working environment. Check the WorkCover guide to working safely in confined spaces for a detailed description of requirements.