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Confined Space Rescue


Two-thirds of all confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers.

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. Two-thirds of all confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers. Even a well-planned rescue can end up as a body retrieval.

Rescues can be performed only by fully trained, qualified, and assigned employee rescuers or a professional rescue service. Qualifications include knowledge of and practical experience with all hazards associated with confined space entry operations and rescue. There are three rescue strategies we'll discuss in this module:

  1. Self Rescue: Self-rescue is always the preferred method for rescuing entrants during confined space emergencies.
  2. Non-entry Rescue: When self-rescue is not possible, non-entry rescue is the preferred method for confined space emergencies.
  3. Entry Rescue: Rescue requiring entry into the confined space should only be performed by a trained rescue team or emergency service provider.

1. What is always the preferred method for confined space emergencies?

a. Third-party rescue
b. Entry rescue
c. Self rescue
d. Non-entry rescue

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Confined Space Emergencies

A confined space emergency is any occurrence inside or outside the space, including failure of hazard control or monitoring equipment, that may endanger authorized confined space entrants. Believe it or not, during emergencies, rescuers end up as confined space fatalities more often than those being rescued. So, why is that? Fatalities can occur when the rescuers:

  • Are overcome by their emotions
  • Take unnecessary chances
  • Do not know the hazards involved
  • Do not have a plan of action
  • Lack confined space rescue training

It is important to know that the period of time for successful rescue is very limited. Otherwise, a rescue attempt will become body retrieval. After only four minutes without oxygen, it is very likely that a worker will experience asphyxiation, which may result in brain damage or death.

Rescue team members must practice.

Preventing Confined Space Rescuer Fatalities

Planning the rescue is paramount. Make sure rescue team members understand their duties, and practice, practice, practice!

Ensure that the rescuer does not travel a greater distance than allowed by the air supply, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and escape cylinders. Analyze distance, space configurations, physical obstacles, and total time needed to enter the space, perform rescue operations, and leave the space. Leave the space immediately whenever a problem arises with respiratory protection equipment or whenever the attendant orders evacuation. Everyone involved in a rescue should assume that the space is deadly and that entry rescue may be required in the worst case!

2. A worker will likely experience asphyxiation from a lack of oxygen after _____.

a. four minutes
b. 30 seconds
c. two minutes
d. one minute

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Confined space rescue training topics

Training must include a variety of topics.

At a minimum, training must include hands-on practice and for specific confined spaces. The training should include:

  • recognition of permit space hazards;
  • control of permit space hazards;
  • use of atmospheric monitoring equipment;
  • use and maintenance of personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • use and maintenance of rescue equipment;
  • annual practice of permit space rescues;
  • proficiency in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); and
  • documentation of training.

Three Rescue Strategies

Depending on the severity of the emergency, different rescue strategies or methods can be used. When the emergency is minor, self-rescue is often the best approach; however, if the worker is disabled, it is likely that non-entry or entry rescue may need to be used. Entry rescue involves putting others at risk, and should be used only if absolutely necessary.

  1. Self-rescue is the preferred plan, because of the speed at which confined space hazards can incapacitate and kill,. The self-rescue plan provides entrants with the best chance of escaping a permit space when hazards are present. Whenever authorized entrants recognize their own symptoms of exposure to a dangerous atmosphere, or when a prohibited condition is detected, entrants are still able to escape from the space unaided and as quickly as possible.

    Self-rescue is vitally important because the entrant is:

    • Conscious and alert
    • Able to recognize his or her own signs and symptoms
    • Still physically able to evacuate space more rapidly than waiting for someone else to rescue him or her
    • Able to alert fellow workers of impending dangers
    • Not endangering anyone else
  2. Non-entry rescue is the next-best approach when self-rescue is not possible because non-entry rescue can be started right away and prevents additional personnel from being exposed to unidentified and/or uncontrolled confined space hazards. Usually, equipment and other rescue aids are employed to assist in removing endangered entrants. In situations where configuration of the space or other elements prevent the removal of the worker, entry rescue may be the only solution.
  3. Entry rescue involves rescuers entering the space to retrieve the entrant and/or provide the victim with emergency assistance such as CPR, first aid, and air via SCBA or a supplied air respirator (SAR), if needed. An entry rescue plan needs to be developed ahead of time in the event of an emergency for which the non-entry rescue plan is not appropriate.

3. When self-rescue is not possible, which confined space rescue strategy is the next best for most emergencies?

a. Entry rescue
b. Partial entry rescue
c. Non-entry rescue
d. Call fire department

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It's important to think through the rescue process proactively to make sure it is successful.

Informing Rescuers

It's important that rescuers are provided with vital information so that they can most effectively perform rescue operations. Rescuers will need to know:

  • Number of victims and location of emergency
  • Length of time victims have been exposed to hazard
  • Suspected cause of accident
  • All information on entry permit, including:
    • Atmospheric testing results
    • Isolation procedures
    • Safety Data Sheet (SDS) information

The Rescue Plan

It's important to think through the rescue process proactively to make sure it is successful. Rescue plans may involve on-site rescue teams or they may rely on off-site rescue service providers. A thorough rescue plan includes:

  • A barricade area for crowd control
  • Additional ventilation options
  • Control of other hazards (cave-ins, traffic, etc.)
  • Protective clothing and equipment
  • Appropriate lighting equipment (explosion-proof)
  • Methods of communication
  • A standby rescue team
  • Victim removal procedures and devices
  • Available emergency vehicles
  • Medically trained personnel

4. Which of the following is considered vital information needed by confined space rescuers?

a. Communication methods
b. Ventilation options
c. Identity of standby personnel
d. Entry permit information

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Scheduled drills should be conducted at least once every 12 months.

Rescue Simulations

It's crucial that members of a rescue team practice simulated confined space rescues for each unique confined space at a facility. As mentioned earlier, rescue drills should be conducted in simulated spaces or, if possible, in the specific confined spaces that will be entered in an emergency. Scheduled drills should also be conducted 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).

5. How often should rescue teams practice confined space rescues?

a. Every two years
b. At least every 12 months
c. Only as needed
d. Every 5 years

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On-Site 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

Off-Site Rescue

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.

Click on the buttons to learn more about employer emergency rescue preplanning responsibilities and emergency provider services.

For Employers

Calling emergency responders to provide rescue services can be a suitable way of providing for rescues in a permit-required confined space. Pre-planning will ensure that the emergency service is capable, available and prepared. Prior to the start of the rescue work operation, employers must evaluate prospective emergency responders and select one that has:

  • Adequate equipment for rescues, such as: atmospheric monitors, fall protection, extraction equipment, and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) for the particular permit-required confined spaces. The ability to respond and conduct a rescue in a timely manner based on the site conditions and is capable of conducting a rescue if faced with potential hazards specific to the space. Such hazards may include:
    • Atmospheric hazards (e.g., flammable vapors, low oxygen)
    • Electrocution (e.g., unprotected, energized wires)
    • Flooding or engulfment potential
    • Poor lighting
    • Fall hazards
    • Chemical hazards
  • Agreed to notify the employer in the event that the rescue team becomes unavailable.

Employers must also:

  • Inform the emergency responders of potential hazards when they are called to perform a rescue at the worksite; and
  • Provide emergency responders with access to all permit-required confined spaces. Access may include:
    • Information on access routes, gates or landmarks
    • A project site plan if necessary
    • GPS coordinates if in a remote location

Employers should also ensure that:

  • The most efficient means to contact emergency responders is available;
  • Any changes to the project site conditions are communicated to the rescue service; and
  • Emergency responders are willing to visit the site and conduct a joint training exercise with the employer.

6. What should an employer do if a confined space rescue service provider cannot rescue within the four-minute time limit?

a. Rely on self-rescue
b. Use an Emergency Medical Service (EMS)
c. Develop a rescue team
d. Wait for the hazard to resolve itself

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Off-site Rescue Services

The emergency services should be familiar with the exact site location, types of permit-required confined spaces and the necessary rescue equipment.

Pre-planning will ensure that the emergency service is capable, available and prepared. 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.

Click on the buttons to see examples of questions to ask off-site emergency rescue services.

For Emergency Service Providers

The following are some questions responders should be able to answer when an employer requests their services:

  • Are you able to respond and conduct a rescue in a timely manner based on the site conditions?
  • Do you have the appropriate equipment for response and rescue, such as: atmospheric monitors, fall protection, extraction equipment, and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) for the particular permit-required confined spaces?
  • Are you prepared for the hazards the employer has identified?
    • Atmospheric hazards (e.g., flammable vapors, low oxygen)
    • Electrocution (e.g., unprotected, energized wires)
    • Flooding or engulfment potential
    • Poor lighting
    • Fall hazards
    • Chemical hazards
  • Are you trained for the hazards identified by the employer?
    • Hazard Communication training (HAZCOM)
    • Respiratory Protection training
    • Hazardous Material training
    • HAZWOPER training
    • Hazard recognition
    • Can you cope with other hazards the company may have identified on the site?
    • Do you need to develop a new procedure for these hazards/conditions?
  • Has the employer provided you with the exact location of the work site?
    • Information on access routes, gates or landmarks
    • A project site plan if necessary
    • GPS coordinates if in a remote location
  • Can you visit the site and hold a practice rescue?
  • Does the company know the best way to contact you?
  • How would the company communicate any changes to site conditions throughout the project?
  • Could other emergencies or group training preclude you from responding and how will that be communicated?

OSHA encourages all emergency service providers to work closely with employers who request their services for permit-required confined space rescues. Pre-rescue planning, communication, and effective coordination of rescue activities are critical in the event that a life-threatening incident should occur.

Private sector commercial emergency service providers are covered by Federal OSHA and must comply with the provisions of 1926.1211. State and local government emergency service providers in a state with an OSHA approved state plan must comply with these requirements. See OSHA's State Plans Webpage for information on state-plan requirements.

7. If the off-site rescue service cannot respond to a rescue summons, entry must not be authorized unless and until _____.

a. the employer assumes liability for injuries or damages
b. the confined space entry team volunteers as rescuers
c. an adequate back-up rescue service is arranged and confirmed
d. the entry supervisor assumes responsibility for rescue

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Rescue Equipment

The importance of having the right rescue equipment on hand can't be stressed enough. Rescue equipment may include:

It is extremely important to have the right rescue equipment on hand.
  • 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)
  • Ladder
  • Explosion-proof lighting
  • Stretcher
  • Approved head protection

Full Body Harness and Retrieval Lines

All authorized entrants and rescuers entering permit-required 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.

8. All entrants and rescuers entering permit-required confined spaces spaces are required to use _____.

a. ladders
b. air-purifying respirators
c. full body harnesses
d. head protection

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.


Confined Space Rescue Training

Watch this rescue drill conducted at a well known Barossa Winery after completing Confined Space, SCBA & Rescue training with MSS Safety

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