Two-thirds of all confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers. To prevent deaths, it is critical to use good confined space entry practices so that there is no need for rescue operations. Remember, even a well-planned rescue can end up as a body retrieval. Rescues can be performed by any employee or a professional rescuer so long as he or she has been fully trained and qualified to act as a rescuer. Qualifications include knowledge of and experience working with all hazards associated with rescue and confined space entry operations.
Confined Spaces and Deaths
Confined spaces are deceiving. A confined space often appears to be harmless; no danger signs are apparent and the space may have been entered on prior occasions without incident. However, a worker cannot assume that conditions have not changed and that the space is safe for entry each time.
It’s crucial that members of a rescue team practice simulated confined space rescues for each unique confined space at a facility. Rescue practices in simulated or actual spaces should be performed at least once every 12 months or more frequently if deemed necessary.
Re-evaluating Rescue Plans
Re-evaluate the plan whenever:
- Conditions change within the space.
- Workers discover any new hazards.
- There are changes in the rescue personnel and/or personnel availability.
- New equipment is purchased.
- Routine proficiency training results are unsatisfactory.
- A rescue plan is found to be deficient (e.g., a failed simulated rescue).
Because most rescue service providers are unable to rescue within the four-minute time limit, most employers develop their own rescue teams. At least one on-site rescue team member should be trained in first aid and CPR. Each member of the rescue team should be trained to:
- Properly use and maintain PPE and rescue equipment
- Act as a rescuer in annual simulated emergencies
- Assume individual roles and take on any emergency
Remember that while the window of opportunity for a rescue is very brief (only four minutes), the response time for an off-site rescue team may be considerably longer. After four minutes have lapsed, the victim could suffer brain damage or die. In some emergencies, rescuers may have even less than four minutes to act. Other situations may allow more time. To make sure your confined rescue plan is effective, make sure you:
- Arrange for local rescue/fire departments to provide rescue services.
- Supply the number and description of each permit required confined space in the facility ahead of time.
- Disclose all known hazards associated with the space(s) so that appropriate rescue plans can be developed.
- Provide access to the space so that off-site rescue personnel can familiarize themselves with the site, develop a rescue plan in advance, and practice rescue operations.
Off-site Rescue Services
If the employer relies on an off-site rescue service, the employer must contact the provider to verify they are available to conduct rescue operations if requested. The verification task is usually assigned to the entry supervisor. If the off-site rescue service indicates for any reason that it would be unable to respond to a rescue summons, entry must not be authorized unless and until an adequate back-up rescue service is arranged and confirmed.
Entry vs. Non-Entry
If the worker is physically able to use rescue equipment (safety retrieval line, rope, wristlets, etc.), rescuers may choose not to enter the space. Instead, they can provide appropriate equipment and assistance necessary to bring the worker out of the space (a non-entry rescue). In situations in which the worker is unresponsive, atmospheric hazards are extremely high, or significant time has elapsed before rescuers arrive at the site, emergency rescue personnel may decide that the risks associated with entering outweigh the potential for a successful rescue. If this is the case, rescuers may elect not to go into the confined space until conditions warrant a safe entry.
As mentioned earlier, non-entry rescue is the preferred method for confined space emergencies when self-rescue is not possible. It’s important to remember that the confined space Attendant should not perform entry rescue. Rescue requiring entry should be performed by a trained rescue team or emergency service providers.
The importance of having the right rescue equipment on hand can’t be stressed enough. Rescue equipment may include:
- Full body harness with retrieval line attached
- Wristlets (may be used in rescue when it can be shown that they are the safest and most effective means of rescue)
- Hand-cranked mechanical winch and tripod (required when entrant is five feet or more below the entrance)
- Explosion-proof lighting
- Approved head protection
Full Body Harness and Retrieval Lines
All authorized entrants and rescuers entering permit spaces are required to use full body harnesses and retrieval lines, unless it is determined that the retrieval equipment would increase the overall risk of entry or would not contribute to the rescue operation.
What kind of equipment should be used for lowering or lifting entrants?
Only devices designed by the manufacturer and approved for moving humans should be used. The equipment must enable a rescuer to remove the injured employee from the space quickly without injuring the rescuer or further harming the victim.
If there is even a remote possibility of other atmospheric contaminants, even though monitoring equipment readings appear to be within the normal ranges, rescuers should still use appropriate respiratory protection. Play it safe:
- Wear SCBA or SAR.
- Do not use air purifying respirators for confined space rescue.