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:
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:
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.
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!
At a minimum, training must include hands-on practice and for specific confined spaces. The training should include:
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.
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:
It's important that rescuers are provided with vital information so that they can most effectively perform rescue operations. Rescuers will need to know:
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:
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-evaluate the plan whenever:
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:
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:
Click on the buttons to learn more about employer emergency rescue preplanning responsibilities and emergency provider services.
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:
Employers must also:
Employers should also ensure that:
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.
The following are some questions responders should be able to answer when an employer requests their services:
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.
The importance of having the right rescue equipment on hand can't be stressed enough. Rescue equipment may include:
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: