The confined space conundrum

28 Apr The confined space conundrum

Having developed specialist skills, experience and knowledge gained from working in difficult and potentially dangerous confined spaces, Senior Consultant with MRS Training & Rescue (formerly known as Mines Rescue Service), Captain Michael Lloyd, RD**, MNM, FNI., shares experiences and observations with FME readers.

Over 100 years ago accidents in mines were common and by a UK Act of Parliament the Mines Rescue Service was formed. The nature of their remit ensured that they became expert at working in confined spaces, training those going into these spaces and more importantly rescuing people from them. In recent years, this expertise has been expanded into other industries such as marine, tunnelling and nuclear power.

The problem

Some years ago our experiences and observations operating in confined spaces led us to conclude that the root causes of most problems lay in one of four directly related areas. This we documented and illustrated in the form of the model shown below now known as the ‘confined space box’ which is widely used and recognised.

Our feelings are that all sides of the box contribute equally to the problem and are ‘interlinked’ like the web of a spider and are interdependent on each other. An example of this being that the design of an enclosed space can affect the training requirements and that training must reflect the equipment needed for any entry and rescue

The enclosed space box


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.

All personnel who may be required to enter the space should be aware of all factors which may affect them and hence their personal safety whilst in the space. In relation to design features which may impair personnel safety this would include:

• adequate room at the entry point for equipment (entry or rescue)

• ease of access into and out off the space

• ease of movement within the space

• 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:


Minimising the risk of accidents and protecting people
must always be the primary concern and personal protective equipment seen as the last ‘line of defence’. A review of PPE used for confined space entry should always be considered
by the supervisor when preparing personnel to enter a confined space.

Entry Equipment

In many instances, the type and design of the space will dictate the equipment required, however, consideration should be given to the following before making that decision.

•gas and oxygen detection



•escape breathing apparatus

•safety harness

Rescue equipment

The worst case scenario during any enclosed space entry is to have to effect a rescue of casualties. To ensure this happens quickly and efficiently dedicated rescue equipment (in addition to entry equipment) is essential. This should be positioned at the entry point and should include:

• man riding winch arrangements

• stretcher

• BA sets

• First Aid kit

Additional equipment held at the entry point could include:

• oxygen resuscitation

• analgesic gas

• de-fibrillation

This rescue equipment must always be strategically placed and ready for immediate use. In cases where there is an emergency hazardous entry, the rescue team must be also be standing by with the selected 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,   and most importantly,

• what to do in the event of something going wrong

Rescue training should be mandatory in any environment with these spaces. The selection of those in any rescue team is most important. Fitness, weight and size together with mental facility in confined spaces are essential criteria for those selected.  The main aim is the same as any rescue, to get the victim out without endangering your own personnel. In an enclosed space rescue involving lack of oxygen, the critical time factor often rests on the recovery phase. This is why a resuscitator is vital to provide the oxygen on reaching the victim and must be part of any enclosed space rescue team.

Equally important is knowledge of the spaces and any entry or internal problems. Exercises in these spaces with a realistic dummy can enhance this knowledge but a full and proper audit of all the spaces within the remit of the rescue team is the precise way for this knowledge to be gained.


In the context of safety and in particular the way in which it is used as part of the enclosed space box, it means our attitude toward the enclosed space problem. The culture of safety is a highly-prized commodity in the nuclear industry and so it must remain, when focusing on this particular problem we cannot solely depend on the confined space regulations to save lives, we must strive to ensure that by our attitude and actions there exists a very high probability lives will not be at risk and injury avoided.

Management system

During our work with an array of differing industries, it became apparent that very few had any audited evidence of their confined spaces or could readily identify or categorise those spaces. Over the last three years we have designed such a system that could provide companies with a computerised database management system to identify, record and store all information on their site relevant to confined spaces.

The system will:

• provide a definitive list of all confined spaces.

• be easy to access and understand and therefore capable of updating as it is intended to be a ‘living document’.

• allow the upload of photographs and company procedures

• reduce existing paperwork

• have the ability to be implemented at any site regardless of their disparity in size or type.

• cope with any change of personnel or responsibilities

• 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.

Our contention has always been to, where possible, offer up solutions to potential problems, in relation to confined spaces we firmly believe that the Confined Space Management System can provide such a solution.


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

For over 100 years, MRS Training & Rescue (formerly known as Mines Rescue Service), has developed specialist skills, experience and knowledge gained from working in difficult and potentially dangerous confined spaces.

However, given the gradual decline of the coal mines over many years, we have been able to expand and diversify to meet the needs of diverse industries including marine, oil and gas, nuclear and utilities.  As well as our core business of training for entry and rescue, we also provide consultancy, standby, equipment and audit of spaces both from our seven training centers around the UK and at the customers’ workplaces.

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