Knowledge base

Underground and Confined Space Worker Injury Compensation

Underground mine worker

Working in a confined space is something that happens in a range of professions, from construction through to maintenance and mining. While safety precautions are always taken for confined space work the fact is that injuries can happen, and working in a confined space can be very dangerous. 

If you have been injured while working in a confined space you may be eligible to claim compensation for your injuries and any loss you have suffered that relates to your injury. 

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What is a confined space? 

A confined space is defined in Queensland as any enclosed or partially enclosed space that is not designed or intended primarily to be occupied by a person, and is at a normal atmospheric pressure while any person is in the space, and is likely to be a risk to health and safety from a lack of oxygen, contaminants, harmful concentrations of contaminants, or engulfment. This definition does not include a mine shaft or working in a mine. 

The definition of a confined space in Queensland is somewhat complicated, and in some cases this has led to the misclassification of confined spaces which has led to risks and injury to workers. 

In general terms, confined spaces carry a higher risk of injury because they are not spaces where people usually work. There is often poor ventilation or control of elements in confined spaces which can see hazards escalate quickly. 

Confined space and underground worker injuries

Facemask to avoid confined space injuries

There are a range of professions which are at a greater risk of confined space injuries. People who work as tradespeople, and predominantly as welders, electricians, and plumbers are at the greatest risk of suffering injury or death as a result of confined space work. 

Common locations for confined space work accidents include silos, vats, trenches, pits, pipes, wells, and kilns. 

Examples of confined space hazards include: 

  • BIological hazards from bacteria
  • Oxygen levels dropping below safe levels resulting in loss of consciousness
  • Flammable gasses
  • Risk of engulfment from wheat or sand

The risks of working in a confined space include loss of consciousness, impairment, injury, or death. There is also the risk associated with the difficulty which can be experienced when rescuing and treating someone who has been injured or who is unconscious in an enclosed space. 

I suffered an injury while working in a confined space - can I seek compensation?

Employers have a duty of care to manage risks associated with working in a confined space. This duty includes the responsibility to manage health and safety risks, and ensuring that a worker does not enter a confined space until all the duties required for work in a confined space have been complied with. 

  • If you have been injured while working in a confined space and the injury was caused by your employer’s negligence then you may be able to seek compensation.
  • Confined space injuries can include physical injuries but may also include psychological injuries which may have been suffered due to the trauma of the injury. 
Exposed to fumes

Examples: Jackson is working in a silo cleaning using a pump when the pump malfunctioned and began emitting fumes. Jackson loses consciousness and has to be retrieved from the silo. He is revived but suffers a brain injury as a result of the period of oxygen deprivation he experienced. The malfunctioning pump had been flagged by his employer but had not been fixed. Jackson’s injury has been caused by his employer’s negligence and failure to provide a safe system of work and he can seek compensation for his injury.
Helen has to clean out a water tank, and she is rushing to get the job done so she can go on lunch faster. She is climbing out of the tank when she slips due to her own negligence. Helen fractures her wrist and cannot work for two months. Helen would be unlikely to be able to claim for her injuries but may be able to claim a portion of her injury if it were found her employer was contributory negligent.

Due to the hazards and risks associated with confined space work, the duty of care your employer has is high, and requires an ongoing commitment to keeping workers safe. While a worker is in a confined space they need to be continually communicating with someone who is outside, and risk assessments must be up to date and ongoing. 

His-vis vest for work safety

Fatalities and confined space work

Confined space work can be dangerous if the hazards are not appropriately managed, which means that fatalities can and sadly do happen. If a loved one has suffered a fatality as a result of negligence in confined space work, the family of that person is eligible to seek compensation for the loss suffered

Can I make a worker’s compensation claim for a confined space injury? 

If you have been injured while you are at work and the injury was caused by someone else’s negligence you may be able to seek compensation for your injuries. You are also eligible to make a worker’s compensation claim which will cover your lost wages and any medical costs. 

You will need to lodge a claim with WorkCover and will need to submit this either to your employer or to WorkCover directly. WorkCover will assist you with your recovery and will be part of your rehabilitation, ensuring that you can return to work as soon as you are able. 

Seek expert legal advice

Can I seek legal advice for my injury? 

If your confined space injury is permanent, or if you have suffered psychological injury as a result of your confined space working injury it is worth seeking legal advice on your matter. You may be eligible for a lump sum payment, or may be able to seek compensation for the enduring loss you have suffered. Get in touch with Smith's pesonal injury lawyers based in Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Sunshine Coast for risk-free legal advice.

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Last update on:
June 1, 2021
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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