3.4 Confined Spaces

The Confined Spaces part of the Regulations is Part 3.4 of Chapter 3 - Physical Hazards. As in all the regulations, the employer has a duty to identify the hazard and then take measures to control the risk and then review these.
The definitions relevant to confined spaces - now in Part 1.1 of the Regulations - are:
  1. confined space  means a space in any vat, tank, pit, pipe, duct, flue, oven, chimney, silo, reaction vessel, container, receptacle, underground sewer or well, or any shaft, trench or tunnel or other similar enclosed or partially enclosed structure, if the space -

    1. is, or is intended to be, or is likely to be, entered by any person; and
    2. has a limited or restricted means for entry or exit that makes it physically difficult for a person to enter or exit the space; and
    3. is, or is intended to be, at normal atmospheric pressure while any person is in the space; and
    4. contains, or is intended to contain, or is likely to contain -
    1. an atmosphere that has a harmful level of any contaminant; or
    2. an atmosphere that does not have a safe oxygen level; or
    3. any stored substance, except liquids, that could cause engulfment -

    but does not include a shaft, trench or tunnel that is a mine or is part of the workings of a mine;
  2. confined space entry permit  means a confined space entry permit issued by an employer in accordance with regulation 3.4.14
  3. emergency procedures, means the procedures established by an employer under regulation 3.4.20;
  4. emergency service  means -

    (a) the Country Fire Authority; or

    (b) the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board; or

    (c) the Metropolitan Ambulance Service; or

    (d) Rural Ambulance Victoria; or

    (e) the Victoria State Emergency Service Authority; or

    (f) Victoria Police;
  5. emergency service employee  means—

    (a) an officer or member of a metropolitan fire brigade; or

    (b) an officer or member of an urban fire brigade or rural fire brigade within the meaning of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958; or

    (c) an employee of the Metropolitan Ambulance Service; or

    (d) an employee of Rural Ambulance Victoria; or

    (e) a member of the Victoria State Emergency Service; or

    (f) an officer or other member of Victoria Police -

    but does not include a volunteer.
  6. safe oxygen level  means an oxygen content in air under normal atmospheric pressure that
    1. is equal to or greater than 19.5% by volume (equivalent to a partial pressure of oxygen of 19.8 kilopascals); but
    2. is equal to or less than 23.5% by volume (equivalent to a partial pressure of oxygen of 23.9 kilopascals);

Division 1 - Introductory

3.4.1 - this Part does NOT apply to employees of an emergency service (Victoria police; metropolitan or rural fire brigade; ambulance service and Victoria State Emergency Service) if the employee is either rescuing a person from a confined space or providing first aid to a person in a confined space.

Division 2 - Duties of designers, manufacturers and suppliers of plant

3.4.2 - 3.4.4 Designers, manufacturers or suppliers of any plant which includes or is intended to include a confined space must ensure that the need for any person to enter the space is eliminated or, if it is not practicable to eliminate the need to enter, then this and any risk associated with entry, is reduced so far as is practicable.

Division 3: Duties of employers

This Division applies to confined spaces that are under the management or control of the employer.

3.4.6 Hazard identification

  1. An employer must identify all hazards to health or safety associated with work in a confined space
  2. An employer may be able to carry out one hazard identification for a class of confined space, rather than for an individual confined space IF all the confined spaces in the class are similar, and this does not result in any employee being subjected to any greater, additional or different risk to health or safety than if the identification were carried out for each individual confined space.

(OHS reps: beware of generic identifications! Contact your union for advice.)

3.4.7 Control of risk  

  1. An employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminate any risk associated with work in a confined space.
  2. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, an employer must reduce that risk so far as is reasonably practicable, taking into account:
    1. the nature of the confined space; and
    2. if a hazard is associated either with the level of oxygen or the level of any contaminant and any changes that may occur in these levels; and
    3. the work required, the range of methods of work available and those selected; and
    4. any work required outside the confined space that may be associated with the hazard; and
    5. the means of entry to and exit from the confined space; and
    6. the type of emergency procedures required.
3.4.8 - 3.4.12 Duty to undertake specific measures to control risk

These regulations require an employer to take specific measures to control risk in relation to:

  • isolation of plant and services connected to a confined space
  • the atmosphere of a confined space:
    • any contaminant in a confined space must be purged or ventilated, so far as is reasonably practicable. Pure oxygen or gas mixtures with a concentration of 21% or greater of oxygen must not be used for this purpose.
    • The atmosphere in a confined space must have a safe oxygen level.If this is not reasonably practicable, then the employer must provide the employee with air-supplied respiratory protective equipment.
    • Employees working in the confined space must not be exposed to an atmospheric contaminant at above that contaminant's exposure standard. If this is not reasonably practicable, then the employer must provide the employee with air-supplied respiratory protective equipment.
  • fire, explosion and flammable gases and liquids
  • signs identifying the space and preventing entering without a confined spaces entry permit

3.4.13 Review of risk control measures

  1. An employer must review and, if necessary, revise risk control measures:
    1. after occurrance of any notifiable incident under Part 5 of the OHS Act that involves work in a confined space; or
    2. if, for any other reason, the risk control measures do not adequately control the risks; or
    3. after a request from an OHS rep.
  2. A rep may make a request for a review if the rep believes 'on reasonable grounds' that
    1. any of the circumstances (a) - (b) exists; or
    2. the employer has failed to
      1. properly review the risk control measures; or
      2. take account of any of the circumstances in 1(a) or (b) when reviewing or revising the risk control measures.

3.4.14 Confined space entry permit

An employer must ensure that an employee does not enter a confined space unless the employer has issued a confined space permit complying with these regulations. The entry permit is for one confined space only and may permit one or more employees to enter it. The permit must list:

  • the confined space it applies to, and
  • the measures taken to control the risks, and
  • the name/s of the employee/s approved to enter, and
  • the name of the stand-by person, if one is assigned, and
  • and the period of time the permit is in operation.

3.4.15 Employer to retain entry permits

An employer must keep entry permits for 30 days from the date the permit ceases to be in operation. 

3.4.16 Communication and initiation of emergency procedures

An employer must ensure that there is continuous communication between the employee/s in the confined space and the employer or an alternative, and that emergency procedures can be initiated from outside the confined space if necessary.

3.4.17 - 3.4.19

An employer ensure that there are procedures in place under which the employer, or the person assigned, knows when an employee is in a confined space, knows when that employee exits it on completion of work, and has a written record of the exit.

3.4.20 Emergency procedures

An employer must implement emergency procedures for the control and management of an emergency situation in a confined space, including procedures for the rescue and the provision of first aid. The procedures must take into account the risk control measures (as in 3.4.7) and  procedures or entry and exit. The regulation also specifies that:

  • the emergency procedures are 'rehearsed';
  • procedures be carried out as soon as possible after an emergency situation arises;
  • any risks associated with the emergency procedures so far as is reasonably practicable, be eliminated or reduced as far as practicable.

3.4.21 Emergency procedures - personal protective equipment
  • an employer must provide any employee involved in a rescue in cases of possible contaminants, lack of oxygen, or engulfment air-supplied respiratory protective equipment;
  • the employer must ensure that the employee uses the PPE provided.

3.4.22 Emergency procedures - entry and exit for rescue
  • an employer must ensure that openings for the entry to and exit from a confined space are big enough to allow for rescue or, if this is not reasonably practicable, that an alternative means of entry/exit is provided
  • any risks associated with any alternative entry/exit must be eliminated or controlled, so far as is reasonably practicable.
3.4.23 Emergency procedures - maintenance of plant

An employer must ensure that any plant provided for use in emergency procedures is maintained so that it is fit for the purpose.

3.4.24 Information, instruction and training

An employer must provide information, instruction and training to relevant employees in:

  • the nature of any hazard associated with the confined space
  • need for and proper use of measures to control the risk
  • the selection, use, fit, testing and storage of any personal protective equipment
  • the contents of any entry permits relevant to employees
  • the emergency procedures

Division 4 - Duties of Self-employed persons

3.4.25 - Self-employed persons to have the same duties as an employer

Self-employed persons must comply with the requirements of Division 3 of these Regulations as if they were an employer in relation to people who may be exposed to a risk arising from the person's business.

See Also:

  • For information regarding what is a confined space, the hazards of confined spaces and poorly ventilated areas, go to our hazard sheet.
  • The full text of the regulations can be viewed and downloaded from the Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents website -  click on Victorian Law Today, then on Statutory Rules, and then on "O" to find the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
  • The Confined Spaces webpage of WorkSafe website and also WorkSafe's Your health and safety guide to Confined Spaces [pdf].
  • The Compliance Code Confined spaces 

Last amended June 2015

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