Confined Spaces

Chapter 4, Part 3 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012
A confined space means:

(a) is not designed or intended primarily to be occupied by a person; and
(b) is, or is designed or intended to be, at normal atmospheric pressure while any person is in the space; and
(c) 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,

but does not include a mine shaft or the workings of a mine.


 Confined space hazards can be categorised into 2 main types: Atmospheric and Physical.

Atmospheric hazards normally refer to the presence of hazardous gases in confined spaces. Atmospheric hazards can usually be defined into the following 3 categories:

  • Oxygen deficiency
  • Toxic gases
  • Combustible gases

A gas detection device should be used prior to entry to check for the atmospheric contaminants. Even if it appears remote that any of these conditions exist, standard procedures must be adopted and followed to prevent potential property damage, injury, illness or even death.

Whilst attention is drawn to the atmospheric hazards of confined spaces the majority of accidents that do occur are physical in nature i.e. from slips, trips and falls.

The types of hazards which can exist in confined spaces which may lead to injury include:

  • restricted or tight access
  • ladders
  • wet areas
  • deep pits
  • poor lighting
  • electricity in wet areas
  • lack of hand rails
  • protrusions
  • poor housekeeping
  • lack of communication facilities
  • flooding
  • infection
  • lack of machine guarding
  • fire/explosion
  • excessive noise
  • lack of safety equipment and tools
  • lack of manpower
  • animals (snakes, rats)
  • slips, trips and falls
  • hot/cold stress
  • drowning
  • suffocation
  • engulfment

The procedures for working in confined spaces are stringent and should only be carried out by competent persons due to the hazardous nature of the work. The Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 states that a competent person is a “person who has acquired through training, qualification or experience the knowledge and skills to carry out the task”.



The Australian Standard for confined space (AS2865 -1995) states that all personnel required to enter a confined space should be trained in First Aid, including Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation

ACCIDENT: A railcar with a defective vent valve cover plate had been sent for repair. It has been purged with nitrogen prior to its arrival at the repair yard. This was not mentioned to repair yard personnel. No signs were placed on the railcar to warn that it contained a mixture of nitrogen and decene. A repair worker assigned to perform repairs on the railcar entered the tank compartment not suspecting that it was under nitrogen and was found unconscious. He died from asphyxiation.


If a safe alternative to working within a confined space cannot be found, the following steps must be taken prior to entry:

  • Conduct a risk assessment
  • Use lock-out and tag-out systems to isolate machinery and electrical power
  • Post warning signs
  • Check all Personal Protective Equipment and Respiratory Protective Equipment
  • Ensure safety equipment is onsite, checked and ready for use
  • Purge/ventilate  the confined space (purging can be accomplished using steam, water, inert gas or air)
  • Test the atmosphere for harmful gases/vapours with a gas detection device
  • Obtain entry and work permits
  • Ensure stand-by persons are present
  • Ensure an emergency response plan including planned exit routes, rescue team and emergency services is in place.



In all situations a stand-by person/attendant must be posted outside the confined space when work is performed, and must remain on duty throughout the duration of the entry, unless relieved by another person of equivalent experience and training. This individual should be provided with the same level of protection worn by those within the confined space so that they can look into the vessel also.

The specific duties of the standby person include the following:

  • Maintain an accurate count of all persons within the confined space
  • Monitor activities inside and outside the confined space to determine weather it remains safe for the entrants to remain inside the confined space
  • Maintain effective and continuous contact with ALL the people working inside the space using radio, agreed hand signals, horn lights etc.
  • Prevent entry of unauthorised persons into the confined space
  • Order evacuation of the confined space if necessary
  • Raise the alarm for rescue teams and emergency services
  • Assist with the rescue services as necessary without entering the confined space.

The stand-by person should attempt to remove the entrants from the confined space using tripods, hoists and lifelines. They must NEVER enter the confined space. Only properly trained and equipped emergency rescue personnel may enter the confined space to make a rescue

**   Over 60% of workers who die in confined spaces are would-be rescuers.

ACCIDENT: A contract worker was working 8m inside an amine contractor tower using air supplied breathing apparatus when the air supply ceased because the external air bottle was exhausted. The worker designated as the stand-by person in charge of monitoring and operating the air bottle was ordered by a supervisor to perform other duties away from the air bottles.  Luckily the worker was alert and quickly exited the tower. Two lessons can be learned here:

  • air bottles supplying air to breathing apparatus should be continually monitored
  • warning devices for low breathing air pressure should be installed and tested prior to the commencement of work


Chapter 4, Part 3, Division 3 of the WHS Regulations

Duties of person conducting business or undertaking
Section 65 – Entry into confined space must comply with this Division

A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that a worker does not enter a confined space before this Division has been complied with in relation to that space.

Maximum penalty:

(a) in the case of an individual – $6 000.
(b) in the case of a body corporate – $30 000.

Section 66 – Managing risks to health and safety

(1) A person conducting a business or undertaking must manage, in accordance with Chapter 3 Part 1, risks to health and safety associated with a confined space at a workplace including risks associated with entering, working in, or in the vicinity of the confined space (including a risk of a person inadvertently entering the confined space).

(2) A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure that a risk assessment is conducted by a competent person for the purposes of subregulation (1).

Maximum penalty:

(a) in the case if an individual – $3 600.
(b) in the case of a body corporate – $18 000.

Expiation fee:

(a) in the case of an individual – $432
(b) in the case of a body corporate – $2 160.

(3) The person must ensure that a risk assessment conducted under subregulation (2) is recorded in writing.

Maximum penalty:

(a) in the case of an individual – $1 250.
(b) in the case of a body corporate – $6 000.

(4) For the purposes of subregulations (1) and (2), the person conducting business or undertaking must have regard to all relevant matters, including the following:

(a) whether the work can be carried out without the need to enter the confined space;
(b) the nature of the confined space;
(c) if the hazard is associated with the concentration of oxygen or the concentration of airborne contaminants in the confined space – any change that may occur in that concentration;
(d) the work required to be carried out in the confined space, the range of methods by which the work can be carried out and the proposed method of working;
(e) the type of emergency procedures, including rescue procedures, required.

(5) The person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure that a risk assessment under this regulation is reviewed and as necessary revised by a competent person to reflect any review and revision of control measures under Chapter 3 Part 1.

Maximum penalty:

(a) in the case of an individual – $3 600.
(b) in the case of a body corporate – $18 000.

Expiation fee:

(a) in the case of an individual – $432.
(b) in the case of a body corporate – $2 160.



A person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must not direct a worker to enter a confined space to carry out work unless the person has issued a confined space entry permit for the work.

Maximum penalty:

  • In the case of an individual – $6 000.
  • In the case of a body corporate – $30 000.

A confined space entry permit must –

  • be completed by a competent person; and
  • be in writing; and
  • specify the following:
    – the confined space to which the permits 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.

The control measures specified in a confined space permit must –

  • be based on a risk assessment conducted under regulation 66; and
  • include –
    – control measures to be implemented for safe entry; and
    – details of the system of work provided under regulation 69.

The person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure that, when the work for which the entry permit was issued is completed –

  • all workers leave the confined space; and
  • the work in the confined space has been completed by the competent person.

Maximum penalty:

  • In the case of an individual – $6 000.
  • In the case of a body corporate – $30 000.

Expiation fee:

  • In the case of an individual – $720.
  • In the case of a body corporate – $3 600.



Safe Working in a Confined Space – Australian Standard AS2865-1995
The Australian standard outlining risk assessment and prevention, control measures and record keeping.
Example of a safe system of work for confined space entry
Flow Chart – Based on Australian Standard 2865 – 1995

Farm safety – confined spaces
Any confined space on a farm poses a particular danger, because the threat may not be apparent until its too late. Silos, vats, tanks, wells, manure pits and other enclosed or partly enclosed structures can suffocate a person with vapours, dust or low oxygen levels.

Working in Confined Spaces
Code of Practice – Confined Spaces


Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012
BP Process Safety Series  – Confined Space Entry 2005
SafeWork SA