Australian safety guidelines for confined spaces
Public Comment

Updating safety guidelines for confined spaces

Standards Australia is seeking input on AS 2865 – Confined spaces. Despite addressing a key safety issue for HVAC&R workers, it is in danger of being withdrawn if industry does not signal its need for the standard.

AIRAH released its Safety in the HVAC&R Industry report in 2017. This report highlighted the need for occupational safety regulations for confined spaces.

“Because HVAC&R is a hidden industry, we’ve got all those hidden places to get into,” says AIRAH’s executive manager – technical services and government relations, Phil Wilkinson, F.AIRAH. “That’s why it’s critically important for workplace health and safety.”

The report found that access-related issues were the most pressing concern for around 30 per cent of respondents. This included the risk of working in confined spaces and concerns about the lack of safe space to carry out maintenance and service work. AIRAH’s report also outlines the hazards of poorly lit and unventilated plant rooms and plant enclosures.

“One of the big pieces that came out of our report was lack of access,” says Wilkinson. “That’s really important for a number of reasons including the safe, reliable and efficient running of equipment. Our industry’s here to make sure that we provide safe and healthy workspaces.”

The current standard outlines the requirements and risk control measures for those operating within a confined space. It is meant to help designers, manufacturers, suppliers, modifiers and users in their safety.

It was first published in 1986, with a second edition released in 1995. It was further amended in 2001 with its latest iteration confirmed and published in 2009.

Standards Australia’s default policy position has been to propose the withdrawal of publications over 10 years old, where no existing active committee is available to provide input on the publication. Given the nature of this standard, a broad range of stakeholders are being asked to provide their views on whether the standard should be withdrawn, reconfirmed without changes, or revised.

Wilkinson believes that the standard is due for a revision.

“Because it’s so old, I don’t remember that we’ve had a good level of input into it. It’s a really good opportunity for our industry to take a look and have a think about it from a safety and design point of view. It’s really critical that we put this sort of stuff front of mind.”

The standard defines a confined space as an enclosed or partially enclosed space that is not intended or designed primarily for human occupancy, within which there is a risk of unsafe oxygen concentration; flammable airborne contaminant concentration that may lead to injuries caused by fire or explosion; suffocation or drowning through the engulfment of a stored free-flowing solid or rising liquid level; and/or airborne contaminant concentration that may lead to impairment, loss of consciousness or asphyxiation.

More information on AS 2865-2009 is available via Standards Australia’s website.

For further information, please contact Standards Australia on 1800 035 822 or email the Aged Standards Team at AgedStandards@standards.org.au.

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