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Confined Spaces Should Be Safer

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Considerable concern has been expressed in the letters columns of the New Straits Times regarding deaths of employees working in confined spaces. Dr Dilip Ghosh from Kuala Lumpur wrote (NST, May 3) about foreign workers who lost their lives while working within sewer channels. Hashim Ambia also brought up the same subject, and urged that the problem be looked into from the human rights perspective.

I share their concern over the needless sewer worker tragedies and that steps need to be taken to help prevent such occurrences.

Accidents can be defined as unexpected and unplanned events which occur through a combination of causes. They result in physical injury or disease to an individual, damage to property, a near-miss, a loss or any combination of these effects.

Among the various industrial incidents, the number of fatal accidents involving workers working in confined spaces has risen recently.

Confined space generally refers to "a space that is limited with unfavourable natural ventilation and one into which infrequent or irregular entry is made for the purpose of maintenance, repair and/or cleaning".

Confined space accidents display several common features: l the work to be done is nonroutine and irregular; victim involved is a contract employee with poor safety induction; l few or none of the standard safeguards are provided; l safe practices and procedures are not followed or neglected; and, l persons with basic first-aid and CPR skills are not available when needed.

Oxygen deficiency is the most common cause of acute illness or fatality in confined space accidents. Statistics gathered from the media have indicated that until the end of June 2001, a total of 17 fatal accidents involving workers in confined spaces have been reported.

The latest and most recent of them occurred at Pasir Gudang Port on June 20 when nine shipyard workers were killed in a flash fire while carrying out welding work in a crude oil tanker.

According to the latest available statistics from Socso, in 1998, there were 1,195 accidents in confined spaces, 122 of which resulted in permanent disabilities and seven fatalities, compared to a total of 1,365 in 1997 with 49 permanent disabilities and six fatalities.

The recent increase in such accidents has shown that measures need to be taken to improve the situation. We need to identify the causes and hazards and try to reduce if not eliminate them.

The most effective way is by increasing the level of safety awareness among the workers concerned. In this regard the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) can play a vital role in organising in-house safety courses.

So far the institute has provided safety training to about 150 persons. It has the capacity to train more as required by industries.

The courses cater to the specific problems of the industry or company concerned and cover a variety of topics, including the guidelines for safe working conditions in a confined space, general knowledge of confined space, procedure for entry, chemical and gas monitoring, gas detector, permit system, sign posting, ventilation, lighting, breathing apparatus, rescue and emergency procedures as well as practical sessions.

Employers must be made aware of the dangers of working in confined spaces and take measures to prevent accidents.

Recently, the Minister of Human Resources, Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn, spoke of the need to consider new regulations to ensure the protection of workers carrying out dangerous work in confined spaces. He said the proposed regulations would be added into the Workers Occupational Safety and Health Act and would require employers and their contractors to fulfil safety and technical requirements before carrying out such work.

Source: The New Straitstimes, Malaysia  

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Composed: 16/07/01 | Modified: 16/07/01


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