This alert highlights the risk of farmers sustaining serious or fatal injuries from entering a potentially hazardous confined space such as a tank, vat, silo or container.
Confined spaces on farms
This information is intended for employers (including self-employed persons) who operate a farm as a business. It highlights the dangers of people entering and working in a confined space (as defined under the Occupation Health and Safety Regulations 2017). Note: Other persons such as hobby farmers (regardless of whether they have obligations under Victoria’s OHS laws) may also find this information useful.
Published:01 June 2017
In an incident a farmer entered a tank, a confined space, to clean it. The farmer collapsed after being overcome by toxic fumes. Two of the farmer's sons went inside the tank to help him. They were also overcome by the toxic fumes.
Events like this have the potential to result in multiple fatalities. This is because people, unaware of the risks, often enter a confined space to help a victim and, in some cases, collapse due to the exposure to fumes and/or the absence of breathable air.
The presence of a harmful level of any contaminant within the atmosphere of a confined space may not be obvious. Therefore there may be no warning or opportunity to exit as the harmful effects of exposure may be immediate.
What is a confined space?
Confined spaces means space in a vat, tank, pit, pipe, duct, flue, oven, chimney, silo, reaction vessel, container, receptacle, underground sewer or well, any shaft, trench or tunnel or other similar enclosed or partially enclosed structure, if the space meets certain conditions.
A confined space is determined by the following associated hazards, and not just because the work is performed in a physically restrictive location:
Restricted entry or exit.
A hazardous atmosphere. A hazardous atmosphere is an atmosphere that has a harmful level of any contaminant or does not have a safe oxygen level.
Risk of engulfment by any stored substance, except liquids.
The harmful effects of a physical or chemical agent are greater in a confined space and may expose a person in the space to a possible life-threatening situation.
Specific examples of possible confined spaces on a farm may include any:
integrated feed system
vats, for example, milk, cheese or wine
tanks, for example, sewage, fuel or water
Determining whether a space is a confined space
A confined space is an enclosed or partially enclosed structure or space that:
is likely to be entered, and
has a limited or restricted entry or exit that makes it difficult to get in and out of, and
is, or intended to be, at normal atmospheric pressure while a person is inside, and
may contain one or more of the following:
an atmosphere that has a harmful level of any contaminant, or
an unsafe oxygen level, or
a stored substance, except liquids, that could cause engulfment
If the space on your farm meets all 4 parts of the definition, then the space is a confined space. You must identify the associated hazards.
Use WorkSafe's Compliance Code: Confined Spaces to help you determine whether the space on your farm is a confined space and to identify hazards associated with the space. As an employer or self-employed person, it is your duty to identify all hazards and control any risk associated with work in confined spaces, so far as reasonably practicable.
Controlling the risks
Following are examples of ways to control risks associated with work in confined spaces:
Firstly, consider whether the work can be done another way without entering the confined space. For example, provide outlets and facilities for cleaning to eliminate the need for entry.
Test the atmosphere to quantify, as far as possible, the level of oxygen, atmospheric contaminants and any flammable gas or vapour present in the space so you can determine appropriate risk controls.
Ensure your employees do not enter a confined space unless they have been issued with an entry permit for the space and there is a stand-by person observing the work from outside the space.
Establish entry and exit procedures to and from the confined space and ensure all employees have exited a confined space on completion of work.
Ensure that emergency first aid and rescue procedures have been established, communicated and rehearsed.
Isolate any plant or services connected to the space.
Put signs on or in the immediate vicinity of any confined space to identify the confined space and to warn against entry by people other than those who have been properly trained and have an entry permit.
Provide the necessary information, instruction and training to your employees to enable them to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.
Ensure appropriate air-supplied or air-purifying respiratory protective equipment is used where required.
To ensure you comply with your duties when working in confined spaces, refer to the:
Safety consultation service
WorkSafe's OHS Essentials program offers a free workplace safety consultation service. An independent OHS consultant can visit your farm to help you identify hazards and provide a practical safety plan.
For further information, contact WorkSafe Advisory.
WorkSafe Advisory Service
WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.