The need for a comprehensive approach to managing confined space entry: summary of the literature and recommendations for next steps

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2014;11(8):485-98. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2013.877589.


Despite all the regulatory and standard-setting efforts that have been made in North America, judging from the most recent statistics many fatal incidents related to work in confined spaces still occur. In Canada, fatal incidents in the province of Quebec reveal failures in and absence of the identification and preparation of work situations in confined spaces and in risk management. In this study, we performed a literature review consisting of 77 documents on existing hazards and risk assessment for confined spaces. Moreover, we formulated proposals regarding the design of specific and improved tools for assessing such risks. We found that atmospheric hazards monopolized attention in the literature on confined spaces, while risk estimation specific to confined space interventions received little practical coverage overall, apart from atmospheric hazards. The parameters used to establish classes or groupings of confined spaces in existing tools were imprecise. The development of a risk analysis process that is (i) more systematic and based on the concepts recognized in risk management standards, (ii) multidisciplinary, and (iii) adapted to the specific characteristics of confined spaces is therefore needed. Such a process will better support managers and occupational health and safety (OH&S) personnel in their efforts to prioritize and reduce risks. Suggestions on such a risk analysis tool and categorization of interventions in confined spaces are proposed in this article. Lastly, risk analysis tools adapted to confined space interventions are needed to ensure the inherently safe design of these spaces.

Keywords: accident prevention; confined space; fatal incident; risk assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / prevention & control*
  • Asphyxia / prevention & control*
  • Confined Spaces*
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Management
  • Safety Management / methods*