Confined spaces present a unique hazard to workers and should a worker become entrapped, the rescue team needs to be well prepared, well equipped and able to communicate effectively in order to achieve a successful outcome.
How confined space rescue solutions differ
Confined spaces are unique and present their own risks. A confined space is an area which restricts mobility, and when this risk is coupled with challenging access and egress and the risk of poor ventilation or contaminated air, the risk multiplies significantly.
Some confined spaces expose workers to the risk of flooding or ground-slip, while others may expose them to toxic substances. Preparation is the key to maximizing the likelihood of a safe entry into and exit from a confined space, but it is absolutely vital that a bespoke rescue plan exists for every confined space so that workers can be freed should a risk materialize.
This is necessary not only for personnel safety but also to comply with the myriad of legislative regulations that apply to businesses that require workers to enter confined spaces.
Employers are mandated by regulatory bodies such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety to assess and control risks, including implementing appropriate rescue procedures. Failure to comply can result in severe consequences, including financial penalties and legal repercussions.
Risk assessments are vital
Before an appropriate rescue solution can be selected, a comprehensive risk assessment must be conducted. This will identify the type of confined space, its potential hazards and the number of workers that are required to enter. By understanding the risks posed by the space, the process of determining an appropriate rescue solution is facilitated.
Types of rescue solutions
1. Self-rescue. Where egress from the confined space is unlikely to be hindered by environmental factors, it may be acceptable for workers to self-rescue, using protective equipment and breathing apparatus to protect themselves from harmful atmospheric conditions while extracting themselves. Additional equipment that may be beneficial for this type of rescue includes harnesses, ropes and two-way radios.
2. Non-entry rescue. Often, when a death occurs within a confined space, it is of a would-be rescuer rather than the person who initially became entrapped. Non-entry rescues mitigate this risk by retrieving workers with mechanical means from outside of the space.
3. Entry rescue. In situations where the entrapped person is unconscious or unable to extricate themselves through other means, a rescue team will be required to enter the space to recover them. All team members must be thoroughly trained and equipped with specialized tools and equipment to operate safely and effectively within the space.
Confined space rescue team training
Before entering a confined space, personnel must be appropriately trained and equipped to do so safely. They must undergo regular drills, simulated rescues and be aware of the latest guidance and safety protocols. They must select the most appropriate equipment to overcome the hazards that the confined space poses and maintain communication with a nominated attendant situated outside of the space.
When employers put these measures in place, they create an effective safety culture, protect their workers and comply with regulatory requirements.