Emergency Procedures and Confined Spaces

Confined Space emergency procedures

Do Confined Spaces need Emergency Procedures ?

confined spaces fire
Most organisations have emergency procedures ready for those life-threatening events which invariably happen quickly and normally at the most inconvenient hour. For work in confined spaces, it is absolutely necessary (and law) to have the work risk assessed and emergency procedures not only in place but regularly practised as well. Here are some tips and questions that may help in this endeavour.

Factors to Consider to Manage Confined Space Risks

When establishing emergency procedures, the following factors must be considered to manage risks associated with confined spaces:

  • Whether the work can be carried out without the need to enter the confined space
  • The nature of the confined space
  • Any changes in hazards associated with the concentration of oxygen or the concentration of airborne contaminants in the confined space
  • The work 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
  • The type of emergency and rescue procedures required.


Key Confined Space Questions to Consider:

confined spaces tankLocation of the confined space: What is the geographic location of the confined space, how accessible is it in an emergency and how far away is it from appropriate medical facilities?

Communications: How can workers working inside the space communicate to people outside in an emergency? Exactly how will the alarm be raised and by whom? Have mock exercises been undertaken to determine emergency readiness ?

Planning: Are there processes and procedures in place to ensure that rescue and emergency personnel can easily and quickly access the workplace during night shift, weekends and holiday periods ?

confined spaces tank stairs


Rescue and resuscitation equipment: What kinds of emergencies are contemplated and anticipated ? The provision of suitable rescue and resuscitation equipment will depend on the potential emergencies identified. Selected rescue equipment should be kept in close proximity to the confined space so that it can be used immediately.


confined space rescue trainingCapabilities of rescuers: Are rescuers properly trained, sufficiently fit to carry out their task and capable of using any equipment provided for rescue (e.g. breathing apparatus, lifelines and firefighting equipment)? Are they tested on a regular basis and via mock emergencies ?


Protection: How will rescuers be protected during the emergency operation? Is protection equipment in operable condition and ready to go ? Examples could be general and job-specific PPE, fire appliances, rescue hoists, remote cameras, etc.

First aid: is appropriate first aid available for immediate use? Are trained first aid personnel available 24/7 to make proper use of any necessary first aid equipment?

Local emergency services: if your local emergency services are part of your risk mitigation controls, can they be relied on for rescue how will the local emergency services (e.g. fire brigade) be notified of an incident? What information about the dangers in the confined space will be given to them on their arrival? Have prior arrangements been made with local emergency services to ensure they can respond in a reasonable time and have the specialist confined space retrieval equipment readily available? Do they know they are part of your risk controls ?

Helpful Confined Space Hints and Tips

confined space fire rescueFirst aid and rescue procedures must be rehearsed with relevant workers to ensure that they are efficient and effective. This includes contractors and anyone else who may frequent the area.

Rescue should be performed from outside the confined space if possible. Workers performing rescue must be adequately trained. Rescuers must be provided with and wear appropriate respiratory protective equipment if they enter a confined space in an emergency.

If a person inside a confined space has been overcome by lack of oxygen or airborne contaminants, it should always be assumed that entry for rescue is unsafe unless air-supplied respiratory protective equipment is used.

Potential problems with the size of entrances and exits must be addressed when developing emergency and rescue procedures (part of the risk assessment of the controls). Where openings are found to be inadequate, their size should be increased or an alternative safe means of entry and exit provided.

A great source of information is the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments F2011L02804 277:



HazWatch Safety

Hazwatch Safety are specialists in the supply of Confined Space Sentry personnel and are available for Confined Space and skilled and semi-skilled labour hire for your shutdowns or for daily hire. We can provide the labour for the safe management of your confined spaces and also help with the development of your confined space emergency procedures. Contact Jodee on 0400 668 716 or email Hazwatch Safety via the Contact Us page for more information.

Should the Confined Space Sentry Role Be Outsourced ?

confined space attendant labour hire

Confined space labor hireCompanies with Confined Spaces face quite a dilemma when manning up for shutdowns/turnarounds or even executing their day to day work. Should they reserve their own people to undertake the actual work, to supervise others undertaking the work or supply their own labour to manage the confined spaces where work is to be undertaken ? There are advantages and disadvantages of all these approaches.


Legal Requirement

There is a legal requirement to have Confined Space Sentries but there is no legal requirement for them to be employees of the “host” company. This role is an essential part of construction and maintenance programs as they are entrusted with the health and safety of those within and around the confined space.

Getting the Expertise

Those with the necessary skills to be a Confined Space Sentry are in demand at present and so hiring personal that have the skills and experience in Confined Space Sentry work, conversant with regulations and familiar with the company’s safety program is vital.

One could source these “experts” from within the organisation but this would prevent this individual from undertaking possibly more “value add” activities for the organisation.

What does a Confined Space Sentry do ?

The roles and responsibilities of a Confined Space Sentry (or attendant, etc.) are more than just “hole watching” and are described in a sister article (What does a Confined Space Sentry Do?) and so will be summarised here:

  • Understand hazards
  • able to communicate effectively via an agreed and documented process
  • know the policies and practices governing the safe management of confined spaces
  • monitor entrants during the work and during entry and exit
  • NOT to leave their post for any reason whilst workers are in the confined space unless relieved by another qualified, approved and documented sentry/attendant
  • Monitor the atmospheric conditions in the confined space prior to and during entry
  • control access to the confined space (personnel, equipment, etc.)
  • summon emergency assistance if and when required
  • keep records of confined space work and the entry and exit of personnel to and from the confined space

In short, a confined space sentry is the person on “hole watch” to be in constant communication with those within the confined space. The main purpose that this role serves is to sound the alarm in case of an emergency or to raise awareness about a potential emergency situation. A confined space attendant is not to enter the confined space to perform the rescue but is to implement the emergency procedures (“sound the alarm”) so that rescue professionals can be brought in.

Should The Confined Space Sentry Role be Outsourced ?

The job of a “hole-watch” should not be taken lightly. Their performance potentially saves lives. One cannot afford to hire an entry-level employee that has not been properly trained and assign that person as a Confined Space Sentry.

Because of the risk involved in confined space work, an objective third-party with trained employees is best brought in to a work site to assist with confined space management.

Trained and independent Confined Space Sentries not only know how to maintain workplace procedures but will act decisively and without prejudice if an emergency situation were to occur and will be able to diligently enact the emergency procedures in a calm and rational manner.

An untrained or company-aligned Confined Space Sentry may be tempted to rush into the confined space to help those in trouble, especially if his or her work colleagues (or even close friends) are in distress or danger. There may be then further lives placed in danger. Independent and well trained Confined Space Sentries go a long way in improving Confined Space Management and Safety thus significantly contributing to a safe and successful construction or maintenance program.


HazWatch Safety

Hazwatch Safety are specialists in the supply of Confined Space Sentry personnel and are available for Confined Space and skilled and semi-skilled labour hire for your shutdowns or for daily hire. We can provide the labour for the safe management of your confined spaces. Contact Jodee on 0400 668 716 or email Hazwatch Safety via the Contact Us page for more information.

For more information on Confined Space Sentries or on Confined Spaces in general, please contact your local authority and your local area specialists in Confined Space Safety Management.

What Does a Confined Space Sentry Do ?

confined space standby
confined space stand byWhat Does a Confined Space Sentry Do ?

This is a very specific role that can have a profound effect on the health and safety of personnel within and around a confined space (What is a Confined Space?).


Alternative Names for “Confined Space Sentry”

It is prudent to define this role to ensure there is no role ambiguity. The more common alternative names to Confined Space Sentry are:

  • Confined Space Entry person
  • Confined Space Standby person
  • Confined Space Observer
  • Confined Space Controller
  • Confined Space Watcher
  • Confined Space Attendant

For the purpose of this article, I will use the term “Confined Space Sentry” to describe this role.


What is a Confined Space Sentry ?

The Confined Space Sentry is a pivotal role who controls who goes into and out of the confined space and monitors all those within the confined space (sometimes crudely referred to as the “hole-watcher”). This person must be on duty at all times and must not engage in alternate duties at any time. This person must also not enter the confined space as it is the role of this person to be the communication conduit and safety observer for everyone inside the Confined Space. That is, if those inside the confined space get into difficulty, it the Confined Space Sentry who will enact the Confined Space Emergency Response and Rescue Plan. This person should not take part in the rescue within the confined space itself. The Confined Space Sentry must have the same Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as those whom are within the confined space to enable that person to peer into the confined space (with actually entering it).

If the Confined Space Sentry needs to be relieved (i.e. shift change, lunch or personal relief break), this person needs to be replaced by personnel with the appropriate qualifications, a signatory of any daily or shift safe work documentation and must not take on any other role whilst relieving the previous Confined Space Sentry.


Summary of Requirements and Duties

Although not exhaustive, the following should provide some insight into the requirements and duties of the Confined Space Sentry role:

  • To maintain an accurate headcount of all people within the confined space
  • To monitor all activities inside and outside of the confined space to determine whether it is safe for the workers to remain inside of the confined space
  • To be competent in gas detection procedures and protocols (understand and operated the equipment) to ensure the safety of workers in the confined space
  • To enforce the confined space permit and also to comply with its control measures (including implementing the emergency rescue plan)
  • To maintain effective and unbroken contact with ALL personnel within the space by utilising radio, mutually agreed, documented and communicated hand signals, horns, lights and the like
  • To prevent the entry of any unauthorised personnel and equipment into the confined space
  • To order the evacuation of the confined space as necessary
  • To initiate the agreed emergency rescue plan and notify emergency services (as required by the plan)
  • To supervise the emergency rescue (without entering the confined space).


Emergency Rescue from a Confined Space

On this last point, the Confined Space Sentry may be permitted to attempt to remove personnel from the confined space in the event of emergency using tripods, hoists and life-lines if so determined on such permits, emergency rescue plans, risk assessment or other formal documentation as required. However, the Confined Space Sentry must never enter the confined space. Properly trained, equipped and designated emergency rescue personnel are the only personnel permitted to enter the confined space to undertake a rescue.


HazWatch Safety

Hazwatch Safety are specialists in the supply of Confined Space Sentry personnel and are available for Confined Space and skilled and semi-skilled labour hire for your shutdowns or for daily hire. We can provide the labour for the safe management of your confined spaces. Contact Jodee on 0400 668 716 or email Hazwatch Safety via the Contact Us page for more information.

For more information on Confined Space Sentries or on Confined Spaces in general, please contact your local authority and your local area specialists in Confined Space Safety Management.


What is a Confined Space ?

confined spaces

Applicable Standard or Code of Practice

The current standard or code of practice is the Model Code of Practice, Confined Spaces from Safe Work Australia. For more information, click on this link.


Confined Space Definition

From the Model Code of Practice: Confined Spaces (Safe Work Australia):
A confined space means 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.


Note that the previously applicable Australian Standard: AS2865 – 1995 Safe Working in a Confined Space is now no longer referred to.

For comparison, the definition from AS2865 – 1995 is included here:

6.2 Confined space – an enclosed or partially enclosed space which:
(a) is at atmospheric pressure during occupancy;
(b) is not intended or designed primarily as a place of work;
(c) may have restricted means for entry and exit; and
(d) may –
(i) have an atmosphere which contains potentially harmful levels of contaminant;
(ii) not have a safe oxygen level; or
(iii) cause engulfment.

Confined spaces include but are not limited to –
(A) storage tanks, tank cars, process vessels, boilers, pressure vessels, silos and other tank-like compartments;
(B) open-topped spaces such as pits or degreasers;
(C) pipes, sewers, shafts, ducts and similar structures; and
(D) any shipboard spaces entered through a small hatchway or access point, cargo tanks, cellular double bottom
tanks, duct keels, ballast and oil tanks, and void spaces, but not including dry cargo holds.


Please see the Model Code of Practice: Confined Spaces from Safe Work Australia for more information: Model code of practice confined spaces

How HazWatch Safety can help:
Please contact HazWatch Safety on phone 0400 668 716 or fill out the Contact Us form