Formerly known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, 3M’s research into confined spaces injuries and fatalities has revealed that between 2005 and 2009, globally, 481 people, or 1.85 per week, died while working within confined spaces.

With confined spaces being a feature of most work sites across all industrial sectors, 3M noted that the challenges that come with ensuring safety of employees in the sector, showed the need to provide insights and training into the best processes for arriving at the right solution for diverse work environments.

Addressing a workshop on confined space rescue at 3M’s Johannesburg offices, emergency medical specialist Rudi Menkveld said, “The statistics show the importance of businesses paying increased attention to health and safety within the sector.

“With over 61% of these incidents having occurred during construction, repairing and/or cleaning activities, we have turned our attention to accident prevention, and in the worst-case scenario, rescuing workers safely, by using the right equipment for the environment.”

Menkveld explained that danger could arise when there’s a lack of oxygen or if workers were suddenly faced with poisonous gas, fumes or vapours. He said breathing apparatus was essential if the air was compromised.

While the global tally does not include serious injuries, it showcases opportunities to improve these work environments.

“The key to preventing accidents and, in the worst case, rescuing workers, is the right equipment,” noted Anderson Cilliers, Market Segment Lead – Fall Protection, 3M. He argued that there was no one-size-fits-all approach.

“Confined spaces often have constrained openings for entry and exit. Therefore, a thorough investigation of each space’s unique characteristics must be undertaken to ensure that one fully understands not only how to access and work within the space, but its surrounding environment,” he explained.

“Once that is completed, one can then look at what the right combination of equipment would be for that particular job. Safety has to be paramount in all work environments, but particularly in confined spaces which are inherently risky and not designed with human occupancy in mind.”

Cilliers emphasised the importance of integrating the process of choosing the right fall protection and retrieval equipment into a company’s risk management processes.

“3M believes that in order to make sure you have the right equipment for your site’s confined spaces, it is vital to adopt a holistic approach. Such an approach encompasses the actual conditions of each site, complies with all applicable legislation and policies, and pre-eminently, promotes the safety of your personnel at all times,” he concluded.

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