National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye in stating this yesterday, cautioned that industry experience had indicated that the three most common causes of accidents in confined spaces were oxygen deficiency, toxic gases and flammable gases.
“What is of utmost concern is that exposure to these hazards has chronic effects, thus the severity of accidents in confined spaces is high, with a high percentage of fatalities.
“Hence, we must identify the causes and hazards present and try to reduce, if not eliminate them,” Lee said in a statement faxed to The Borneo Post here yesterday.
He was responding to a fatal incident where an Indonesian man died after inhaling poisonous gas while cleaning a barge here last week.
According to the news report, the deceased’s two co-workers survived while fire fighters used personal protection equipment (PPE) for the rescue mission.
Lee pointed out that accidents in confined spaces bear several common features such as absence of or insufficient safeguards, neglect of safe practices and procedures, and employment of contract employees not adequately trained in safety procedures, among others.
“To avoid accidents and fatalities, only those with certificates of competency from a DOSH registered training provider should be allowed to work in confined spaces,” he stressed.
Lee added: “NIOSH has worked jointly with DOSH in 2010 to set up the national standards for safety in workplaces involving confined spaces whereby a permit would be given to competent persons through the Industrial Code of Practice for Safe Working in a Confined Space to further encourage safety in confined spaces.
“This will ensure that workers in confined spaces will at least have a minimum standard of safety, thus ensuring fewer accidents.”
The Industrial Code of Practice is legally binding and is to be adhered to by industries and parties involved in confined space work, he added.
According to Lee, confined space generally refers to a space that is relatively small with unfavourable natural ventilation and one into which infrequent or irregular entry is made for purposes of maintenance, repair and/or cleaning.
Examples of confined spaces include silos, tanks, vats, sewers, reaction vessels, ship compartments, sludge pits and boilers, he said.
Niosh, said Lee, regarded increasing the awareness and level of safety among the workers as the most effective way to combat this problem.
Towards this end, he said NIOSH had been organising specific programmes to promote safe work in confined spaces.
“Persons are trained for Authorised Entrance into Confined Spaces, and Authorised Gas Test (AGT), also known as entry supervisor for confined space works.
“NIOSH also has a train-the-trainer programme for AGT.” Lee recalled that since 2010, 116 in-house courses had been planned and only one new course would be conducted at NIOSH premises.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) Sibu sub-branch advisor Dr Hu Chang Hock warned of the presence of toxic gases such as nitrogen, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide among others in confined spaces.
Dr Hu cautioned that lack of oxygen coupled with toxic gases would cause people to collapse while working in confined spaces.