can you recognise a confined space?

An area is classified as a confined space if work being done in the space would generate harmful concentrations of airborne contaminants. The same structure may or may not be a confined space depending on the circumstances when the space is entered. According to this flow chart, can you identify the confined spaces in your brewery?

the safest practice is to not enter

Clean in Place (CIP) systems allow cleaning and sanitation without entry; inspections can be performed from outside the vessel using mirrors and flashlights or video cameras. In cases where spray ball(s) for the CIP are not reaching all areas of the tank then portable cleaners can be purchased that can be placed through the manway opening for additional coverage. When placing standpipes, flavouring or hop bags, a long-handled gripper tool can be used to perform the work from outside the confined space. Cleaning can be performed with long handled scrubbers.

test the atmosphere

To reduce the likelihood of an incident, the atmosphere inside a confined space must be tested using equipment that can detect the hazards that may be present. Multi-gas meters that detect oxygen, carbon monoxide, lower explosive limit and toxic gases such as hydrogen sulphide are typically used to test a confined space prior to entry. For brewery applications the meter must also be capable of detecting carbon dioxide. Any meter used for confined space entry must be properly maintained, calibrated and tested prior to use.

know the hazards

Confined space hazards include fire, explosion, electrical, airborne contaminants and liquids, lack of oxygen and difficulty with Emergency response and rescue. An example of a high-risk activity where work is performed in an identified confined space is hot work (welding). The normal hazards of welding are intensified due to an ignition source being present and a potential for build-up of a hazardous atmosphere.

Other hazards in a confined space may be the risk of falls (slipping inside a wet vessel), entrapment, electric shock and radiation or heat.  If something was to go wrong, the consequence is more significant due to challenging access and egress.

keeping brewers safe

An adequate procedure (including permit), signage, security and good housekeeping are important controls if an entry to a confined space is unavoidable.  Any worker entering a confined space must be appropriately trained. Controls which may be implemented include:

  • Evaluate the atmosphere and assess the risks each time work is being conducted in a confined space;
  • Follow a safe procedure (and permit)
  • Have essential fire services available;
  • Implement control measures which maintain an atmosphere which is fit to breathe; and
  • Plan for an emergency response / rescue.

It is also recommended a register is available of all the locations of confined space on your site. It is best practice that these confined space areas are labelled with a warning/danger sign. Once you know the hazards and risks, you may feel more comfortable engaging a contractor to conduct maintenance or repair works in confined space.

permit to work

A confined space entry permit checks that a safe system of work is in place before people are allowed to enter. It also provides a means of communication between managers, supervisors and those carrying out the work. The permit should be placed outside the confined space when working inside. This permit should be completed and given to the person who authorised the work once finished.

what can go wrong?

In April 2013, seven workers were killed in a confined space at the Corona brewery in Mexico City. Workers died due to inhaling toxic fumes and were trapped when conducting a routine maintenance and cleaning of one of the tanks.

This was an ill-fated accident, and the outcome of working within a confined space is was death for these workers. It is important to have an authorised person to only enter the confined space, implement safety control measures around confined space such as egress and access and ensuring permits to carry out this high-risk work are completed with supervisors/permit issuers monitoring.


Safe Work Australia have information around confined space with an excellent criterion to determine confined space. Safe Work Australia also have a Code of Practice. Victual have a Confined Space Hazard Guide Online Training available.

If you would like assistance in doing risk assessments, having a discussion around Confined Spaces, or want a free copy of a Confined Space Permit, contact Victual