3D Laser Scanning in Confined Space

3d laser scan in confined space

How to obtain accurate 3D laser surveys in confined spaces.

A confined space is defined by the Health & Safety Executive 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.”

Many different industries also categorise confined spaces within their sites depending upon their access and egress restrictions, oxygen levels and other potential gases and in some cases the risk of an inflow of a liquid or solid or even dust.  Despite the name however, confined spaces are not always small enclosed areas.

Every industry may view the risks associated with confined space differently and require alternative entry procedures. Understandably all will insist that to make an entry into a confined space you must have the appropriate training.  As such, training providers such as ESS-Safeforce and Develop Training offer courses that certificate an individual for  2 – 3 years before having to retake.

With confined space entries being routinely undertaken by certified persons on a daily basis throughout the UK, they still remain a potentially high risk to any project safety programme and financial obligations.  However, having attended such courses over the past 20 years, there is one overriding rule that has always been given that everyone should abide by.

First rule for confined space entry:


In fact this is stated in The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 and suggests that designers and project teams either find alternative ways of completing tasks or make physical changes to an environment which can reduce or declassify the area concerned.

It has always been the case that certain areas within confined spaces are at a higher risk of producing an explosion due to the potential mixture of gasses or even dust.  These areas are categorised as The Dangerous Substance and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations DSEAR after their regulations were issued in 2002 and also The Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH) issued in 2015.   

Industries follow Approved Codes Of Practice (ACOP) instructions issued by the HSE and industry safety teams and complete risk assessments to manage their assets accordingly.

However, it still remains that confined spaces and hazardous areas exist within our industries and even to make the suggested changes it would be necessary to undertake an entry.  Although there is now a possible alternative solution that can reduce the associated risk.

3D Laser Scanning in Hazardous Areas

At the time of writing this post, the only known explosion-proof 3D laser scanner is the Zooller+Frohlich 5006EX. Whilst the majority of industrial 3D laser scanners available are not intrinsically safe, they have been designed and tested to ensure that they do not initiate an explosion due to arcing contact or high surface temperatures.  Under specific instructions and conditions set out within a permit to enter, modern laser scanners may be operated in certain confined spaces and hazardous areas where the risk has been identified and managed.  This usually adopts a hot works permit element to the entry requirements and or additional monitoring.  

Reducing the risk of confined space entry.

Therefore by monitoring the risk during a survey it is possible to complete a 3D laser survey in many of the confined space categories.  Although it is also possible to scan an area without having to make an entry using an inverted tripod and remotely operating the scanner from outside the area.

3D laser scanning for confined spaces

Where an area is significantly larger and entry is required, it is still possible to set up the scanner and leave the confined space before remotely operating although it should be noted that this will extend the survey session considerably.

Should however it be necessary to complete the survey from within a controlled area, minimising the number of persons that enter contributes to reducing the overall risk assessment. 

The greatest advantage of completing a 3D laser survey from within a confined space is in fact the data that it produces and the formats in which it can produce survey information.

Firstly, due to their nature a confined space is not always the most pleasant of environments, often with minimal or no lighting.  Not a problem for a laser scanner as they produce their own light source and have no problems working in complete darkness.

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A point cloud created from the 3D laser survey makes it possible to view the confined space safely using standard software applications such as Faro SCENE or Autodesk Recap. Alternatively, you could generate a fly-through of the point cloud data or even immerse yourself in virtual reality.  

Creating Virtual Environments

All of which allows anyone access to the restricted area without the need for specialist equipment or additional training. Therefore eliminating any further risk from making any further confined space entries during the design stage.

Furthermore, should the procedure for any alterations need to be examined, process development and any training for specific tasks can be completed in a virtual reality environment.

Another crucial saving made by utilising 3D laser surveys from within confined spaces is the reduction in time taken to complete.  Typically undertaken in up to 80% of the time needed for a traditional survey and capturing far more data.

Given the saving on time and the ability to reduce the overall safety risk, 3D laser scanning offers some alternative solutions to designing within confined, hazardous and controlled areas.  

PointSCAN have over 20 years of experience working within confined and hazardous environments and would be happy to advise on any projects or requirements you may have.


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PointSCAN Limited