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Asphyxiation – A major risk in confined spaces

What is confined space? The phrase can bring forward a range of ideas, but it does have an actual definition. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a confined space as “a place which is substantially enclosed (though not always entirely), and where serious injury can occur from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby (e.g. lack of oxygen).” In layman’s terms, confined space contributes greatly to the probability of asphyxiation.

The definition of confined space only answers so much, however. Confined spaces come in many forms such as: manholes, sewers, drains, vats, silos, vessels, boilers, hoppers, tunnels, pipeline, ductwork, shafts, tunnels, equipment housings, freight containers, ballast tanks, cargo holds, pits and trenches. These can found in a range of industries including water treatment and sewerage, agriculture, construction, ports and docks, onshore and offshore oil production, chemical and pharmaceutical production, construction, power generation, manufacturing, plant rooms and mining.

The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 cover the dangers, safe systems of working and emergency procedures.

The dangers cannot be under-estimated and risk assessments need to be performed to identify one or more of the following conditions including:

  • Poor air quality with inadequate ventilation
  • Hazards from asphyxiates such as the accumulation of harmful gases or poisonous fumes
  • Chemical exposure
  • Fire hazards
  • Process-related hazards such as release or movement of solid or liquid materials
  • Safety hazards from risks, trips and falls, contact with moving equipment or structural hazards
  • Physical hazards including excessive noise, temperature, vibration, radiation or poor lighting
  • Biological dangers from bacteria or virus infections.

Confined Space in the Workplace

There are many examples of confined spaces in the workplace, which require staff or contractors to perform maintenance or essential operational procedures.

It is essential to test the air quality in confined spaces, especially if there has been any leakage from any packages in transit, residue of fumigants, any vapours from volatile, unstable items of from solvents, oxidation from fermenting, decomposing or rotting contents, or through rusting of the structure, leakage from hoses or cylinders, or toxic fumes from sludge as a result of welding, cutting, cleaning or sanding.

An oxygen-deficient atmosphere is considered to have less than 19.5% oxygen, and should not be entered without use of respiratory apparatus, to aid breathing during duties. Since many gases or vapours are colourless and odourless, it is essential to test the air with a calibrated testing instrument.

If hazardous fumes are detected and cannot be displaced by ventilation (natural or mechanical), breathing apparatus with suitable filters should be used and fitted correctly before any attempted entry. Back up equipment should be readily available if any emergency procedures need to be invoked to rescue anyone from the confined space.

What is a Confined Space Permit?

A confined space permit is needed in order to work in confined spaces. These reserve access to the confined space to only those suitably trained and supervised whilst providing all relevant safety information, maintenance and operating instructions. These should be supplied with correct and functional protective equipment, to perform specified tasks, once all precautions have been taken to isolate energy sources and to monitor the environment and identify potential dangers. Additionally, time limits for the task must be established, with explicit hand over and rescue plans to be communicated.

Label Source’s range of confined space, hazard warning and PPE (personal protective equipment) signs can act as a reminder to staff or contractors of the precautions, potential dangers and essential equipment necessary to safely perform their duties within the confined space.


How to Label Warehouse Racking

The core function of any distribution centre is to accurately select goods speedily and safely. The emphasis should be on picking the correct products in the chosen colour, size, type or model in the necessary quantity; this eliminates errors which will result in returns and customer dissatisfaction, along with the consequent cost to the business for replacement.

One important element in operating an efficient logistics facility is to have clearly marked warehouse locations of racking, shelves, bins, totes, trays or pallets. There tends to be a number of industry standards, which form part of any warehouse racking identification system:

  • Shelves should be numbered from the ground up. This allows vertical expansion of racking, without the need to re-label all shelves.
  • For all numbers less than ten it is recommended that zero is added before the number, i.e. 01, 02, 03 etc. This will allow locations to be located alphanumerically. If the warehouse is vast and exceeds 99 aisles, then numbering needs to start at 001 rather than 01.
  • Labelling should be consistent to prevent picker confusion.
  • Aisles should be marked alphabetically to match pick lists to create organised and efficient routes for pickers.
  • Location tends to be initially labelled aisle, secondly shelf or rack and thirdly row/ bin ie aisle 01, rack 02, bin 01.
  • In some instances there may be a need to create zones, such as dry goods, chilled and refrigerated.
  • Labelling should be highly visible, with the best colour combinations being black on white, or black on yellow.
  • Labels can be alphanumeric, with or without barcodes for scanning, dependent on the type of location. Barcodes can be either 3 of 9, interleaved 2 of 5, code 128, Data Matrix or QR, which tend to be the most popular types.
  • Labels for locations should have a suitable adhesive to prevent any problems with lifting or peeling. They should be easily released from their backing to allow quick installation. They need to be installed at suitable temperatures, normally 10°C. For variable location marking another material option tend to be magnetic, which allows easy repositioning
  • Labels should have laminated surface to improve their durability in the event of damage from impacts. Surfaces which are not highly glossy tend to provide more accurate and consistent scanning of barcodes.

For your bespoke warehouse rack labelling solutions, contact Label Source to discuss your requirement, browse our warehouse racking labels or request a quotation.


Certain hazards signs, along with their meanings and designs, have embedded themselves in popular thought through their prominence in media, world events and, generally, provocative designs. These three labels – the skull and crossbone, the biohazard four circles and the radiation tri-foil – are the most famous, allowing them to be some of the most well-recognised hazard signs and meanings.

Danger: Skull and Crossbone

Since as far back as the twelfth century, the skull and crossbone has been used to warn others of danger or ferocity. Originally used for military flags and insignia, it was soon associated with piracy and had developed into its current form by the fifteenth century.

Throughout the years, the symbol was quite often used on the entrances of graveyards. However, in the nineteenth century, it was adopted as a warning for poison or other dangerous substances, replacing previous symbols, such as +++ and drawings of skeletons. This came to prominence thanks to a New York State requirement in 1829 for all containers holding poisonous substances to be labelled.

In a stroke of strange local news, the sign was adopted by Cardiff Rugby Football Club in 1870 for use on their uniforms, before being removed following a campaign by the players’ parents.

Variants of the skull and crossbone label were used throughout the early twentieth century, causing conflicting issues behind the hazard sign’s meaning.

In 1986, a study in the University of Alberta determined that the most effective variant of the sign was one that is similar to the one we see today:  a white skull and crossbones in a black triangle. While the modern variant differs, the study spoke volumes for the importance of having universal and recognised hazard signs and meanings.

Biohazard Tape

The history and meaning behind radiation label

The creative brief for the biohazard label read as follows: “memorable but meaningless”. This was the task chemical company Dow Chemical had to follow in 1966 when designing a new label for their containment products. Following its huge success, Science declared the sign as the gold standard for biological hazards in 1967, sparking a love affair with scientists and zombie-aficionados alike. 

Before that, biohazard labels were not effective, bordering on impotent. The US Army labs employed an upside-down blue triangle in the early 20th century, while the Navy chose a pink triangle. The Universal Postal Convention tried pushing for a white staff-and-snake with a violet background. Thankfully, Dow recognised that this lack of proper universality in hazard signs and meanings was causing problems.

Pinning down what made the biohazard label so immediately recognisable, even one year after its debut in 1967, is tough, but its spiky, sharp design may have something to do with it.


The history and meaning behind biohazard tape

Alongside the above tapes, the radiation sign is easily recognised. The symbol was driven in the wider consciousness during the Cold War, plus modern disaster, superhero and war films of all descriptions tend to centre on a nuclear threat or origin of some description.

The life of this “tre-foil” design came from, once again, the United States at the University of California, Berkeley in 1946. The symbol originally came via a doodle by a research group, who wrote that the logo was meant to represent energy coming out of an atom. 

Things went quiet on the radiation front for two years when, in 1948, Brookhaven National Laboratory requested a symbol of standardised colours for use in radiation safety.

The original designs were completely different to what we see today, with the sign having a blue background with a fuchsia symbol. This background was changed to yellow by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory the same year. The symbol is still fascia in the US today, with Europe opting for a black and yellow colour scheme.

How Well Do You Know Your Hazard Symbols?

Hazardous signs and their meanings are incredibly important as science moves forward. As with most industries, the world of labels moves fast. Be sure to keep up with Label Source’s news blog and hazard sign product pages for the newest information on all things labelling and safety.

workplace warning signs to prevent slips, trips and falls

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there were 555,000 estimated non-fatal injuries to workers in 2017/2018 and 71,062 reported by employers during the same period. 420,000 of these led to injuries which required up to seven days of absence from work, and 135,000 required more than a week off.

HSE also reports, under RIDDOR in 2017/2018, slips, trips and falls on the same level accounted for 31% of reported accidents, handling, lifting and carrying 21% and 10% were caused by being struck by a moving object. Falls from height and acts of violence were also key causes.

A year previous, the total cost of workplace injuries and ill-health was reported to be £15billion, with injury contributing towards 35% of this at £5.2billion. The majority of these costs fell on individuals, but both employers and the government also felt the effect.

Overall, there has been a general downward trend in the number of self-reported non-fatal injuries over the last two decades, which is great news for health and safety and everyone affected. However, we believe these numbers could be decreased further with appropriate safety signage.

How to Prevent Slips, Trips and Falls

If you’d like to learn how to prevent slips and falls, then we have some top tips for you:

  1. Run a risk assessment – ask employees about known hazards and identify problem areas through hazard-spotting.
  1. Clearly mark hazards using appropriate signage and labels.
  1. Keep your premises clean and well-kept, clearing spillages asap.
  1. Ensure the correct protective clothing and safety footwear is worn.
  1. Make a record of hazards and what you have done to rectify them. Also, encourage staff to report near misses.

Please note: We always recommend referring to The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 for legal guidance.

The Importance of Appropriate Signage

You may be surprised at how much impact a sign can make; in some cases, it can save a life.

In November 2018 a construction company was fined when a chauffeur fell to his death at a home that was under construction. The chauffeur stepped onto a blue tarpaulin that was placed over a void to prevent water leaking in and fell.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive said that the company had failed to use adequate construction site fencing and there had been no warning signs.

HSE inspector Rauf Ahmed added:

“This tragic incident could easily have been prevented. Builders need to take adequate measures to prevent unauthorised access into construction sites and prevent persons falling into open basements.”

A danger, deep excavation symbol and text safety sign could have certainly notified the deceased of the basement excavation in this case, and possibly prevented his fatal fall.

Avoid the Consequences by Utilising Safety Signage

Whether you want to notify passers-by of a wet floor or workers of excavation, we’re sure to have a suitable sign or label in our extensive range here at Label Source. Do your bit to prevent accident and injury occurring by investing in warning signs for slips, trips and falls.