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October 21, 2016
NSC Congress & Expo highlight #2: Understanding the requirements of confined space rescue
By David Galt, Senior Legal Editor - EHS Training

One of the most misunderstood portions of the OSHA confined space standard for general industry is the rescue requirement. Many employers don’t manage their confined space entry risks because they fail to adequately assess the hazards and recognize the need for rescue services.

James Lange, a confined space instructor at Fox Valley Technical College, talked during a highly informative session about the rescue requirements of the OSHA Confined Space Standard for general industry workplaces and how to implement them. He also discussed the various options for providing confined space rescue services, and common limitations of municipal fire departments. The presentation, Understanding the Rescue Requirements of the OSHA Confined Space Standard, was delivered at a technical session during the National Safety Council Congress and Expo held this week in Anaheim, CA.

Common hazards of rescuers
There are common confined space hazards that rescuers have to be prepared to face:

  • Hazardous atmosphere, including lack of oxygen, is the most common hazard
  • Moving parts
  • Flowing material such as grain in silos
  • Liquids
  • High heat, especially common in paper mills
  • Environmental
  • Configuration

OSHA compliance requirements
Federal OSHA, and the OSHA-authorized state regulatory programs, require employers with permit-required confined spaces to have rescue programs. Rescue is not required for non-permit confines spaces. 911 emergency services is often the option for non-permit space rescue.

Mr. Lange reviewed the confined space rescue hierarchy:

  • Self rescue—the entrant leaves the space without assistance.
  • Non-entry rescue—the entrant is removed from the space remotely with the retrieval line and winch. This rescue method is very tough or impossible when the space is full of equipment or other barriers that interfere with the retrieval line.
  • Assisted entry rescue—a qualified rescue team hooks the entrant to a functioning retrieval system that allows others to pull him or her out.
  • Full entry rescue—the rescue team goes in and brings the entrant out.

Self rescue and non-entry rescue are always the preferred options.

Preparation for rescue operations
The rescue team must be prepared with the following procedures and equipment before performing a rescue:

  • Respiratory protection—all rescuers must have respiratory protection, even if the permit for entry doesn’t indicate a hazardous atmosphere. IDLH is assumed in most rescues.
    SCBA vs. SAR—what is the best choice for rescue entry? The challenge with SCBA is twofold: it increases the the weight and bulk of the rescuer making it tougher to maneuver through the space, and it only lasts for 30 minutes under ideal conditions. SAR is the better option: it is lighter and less bulky than SCBA and it lasts longer for air.
  • Written respiratory protection plan
  • Other PPE such and head and hand protection
  • Other equipment for assisting rescue, depending what is needed to get in and out of the space. This can include vertical and horizontal retrieval systems. For vertical retrieval, he recommended arranging the harness with the D-ring is in front so the victim’s head is not slumped forward to catch on something.
  • Lighting—a light attached to the helmet is an excellent way to provide good lighting.
  • Hazardous/Flammable atmosphere policy—if a flammable atmosphere is above the LEL, never attempt rescue until it has been brought below the LEL. Even a radio can create a spark that ignites the substance. The risk to rescuers is too high.

How does the team get out of the space during rescue? They have the right equipment and know how it works with adequate training.
There is no set requirement for the amount of training a rescuer needs, but the presenter said his typical initial rescuer training takes about 6 hours in the classroom with varied lengths of hands-on demonstration and practice.
A best safe practice is that all rescue team members should be qualified to give first aid and CPR. One hands-on rescue training has to be provided every year. Try new or different scenarios each year so that rescuers are prepared for various space conditions.

Rescue Considerations
The configuration of the space will often make decisions about entry and retrieval for you.
Grain bins—even buried entrants can survive if the rescue team can dig them out. Make sure all rescuers are tied off, and if the victim is or can be tied off, digging out around the victim can relieve pressure. In come cases, breaking open the side of a grain bin can drain contents enough to enable retrieval.

Choosing a Rescue Team—Options
An employer or confined space operator has the following options for a rescue team:

  • In-house team
  • Contract with a rescue service
  • Fire department

For many employers, the local fire department is the easiest and less costly option. However, it is not necessarily the best, and may not be a good option for the following reasons:

  • They probably will not use rescue equipment you may have on site.
  • They are often not trained or equipped for the specific hazards at your site.
  • They may not be available when needed (e.g., busy handling another emergency, participating in training, etc).

#1 Rule of Rescue
Have a PLAN. The person or entity that will perform rescue should write or be integrally involved in preparing the rescue plan. Never make 911 your plan for permit-required spaces. It may be OK for non-permit spaces.
If you can do all rescues non-entry, then you don’t need a rescue team.

You can contact Mr. Lange at

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