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Using OSHA and NFPA to Choose a Confined Space Rescue Team

Posted by Alex Zielinski on Thu, Dec 07, 2017 @ 08:59 AM

Confined Space Rescue Operations Training.jpg
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In many parts of the United States there are as many standby high angle or confined space rescue teams as there are confined spaces. How do you choose the right team for your rescue plan? Does each team provide the same quality, competency, and proficiency? No matter if you have worked with the same rescue plan for the last ten years, or you are planning for rescue from your first confined space, here are three things you need to know about choosing a rescue team:

1. NFPA 350 states how quickly your team should be able to rescue

Depending on the hazards and design of the confined space, NFPA 350 Guide for Safe Confined Space Entry and Work specifies how quickly your designated rescue team should be able to react and respond to an emergency within your confined space. NFPA 350 categorizes spaces based on potential or actual hazards

  • Tier I – No recognized hazard but could require technical rescue should a worker become incapacitated
    • Rescue is available to respond within five minutes to the site and is capable of setup and rescue entry within 15 minutes
  • Tier II – Non-life-threatening hazards requiring rapid intervention
    • Rescue is on site, equipped for safe entry and rescue. Capable of setup and rescue entry within 12 to 15 minutes of incident
  • Tier III – Life-threatening hazards requiring immediate intervention. Actual or potential IDLH condition
    • Rescue is fully setup and capable of rescue entry within two minutes of incident. Rescue team should be dedicated to this singular entry with no other responsibilities

2. NFPA 350 states how many people should be on the rescue team

In the industrial setting we often see is a cookie cutter response to confined space rescue needs – always sending the same number of people to the standby site, no matter the hazards of the space and the duties of the rescuers at the scene. NFPA 350 once again shows us what we need:

  • If the confined space has no obstructions OR entanglement hazards AND entrant is properly attached to a retrieval system THEN one rescuer is needed to perform a non-entry rescue.  

  • If the confined space has no obstructions or entanglement hazards, the entrant is not attached to a retrieval system, no potential atmospheric hazards exist, and vertical extraction is not required THEN three rescuers are needed to perform an emergency entry to effect rescue: 1 Rescue Attendant, 2 Rescue Entrants

  • If the confined space has obstructions or entanglement hazards, the entrant is not attached to a retrieval system, there is no potential for atmosphere hazards, and vertical extraction is required THEN five rescuers are needed to perform an emergency entry to effect rescue: 1 Rescue Attendant, 2 Rescue System Operations (with assistance from plant personnel), and 2 Rescue Entrants

  • If the confined space has obstructions or entanglement hazards, the entrant is not attached to a retrieval system, the potential for atmosphere hazards exist, supplied air respirator cannot be used (requiring SCBA, and vertical extraction is not required THEN five rescuers are needed to perform an emergency entry to effect rescue: 1 Rescue Attendant, 2 Person entry team, 2 Rescue Entrants


3. Relying on 911 is not good enough

The OSHA Permit-Required Confined Space standards provides criteria for rescue teams in Non-Mandatory Appendix F – Rescue Team or Rescue Service Evaluation Criteria. From Appendix F:

“The employer should meet with the prospective rescue service to facilitate the evaluations…At a minimum, if an off-site rescue service is being considered, the employer must contact the service to plan and coordinate the evaluations required by the standard. Merely posting the service's number or planning to rely on the 911 emergency phone number to obtain these services at the time of a permit space emergency would not comply with paragraph (k)(1) of the standard.”

It is not the intention to state that a fire department is incapable or will refuse to respond because you did not meet with them prior to your confined space work. As of December 2017 there were over 27,000 fire departments in the United States. (source) and each one of those departments can have vastly different capabilities when compared to the next.

“Only 34% of U.S. fire departments in the United States provide Technical/Specialized Rescue services.”
–U.S. Fire Administration (source)

You may have a full-time, on-call, or volunteer department. Each one will have different response times and each one will have different levels of rescue service – some having no confined space ability, and will rely on a neighboring department or county rescue team. When called, the fire department will always respond, but without a conversation, you may be expecting a service that is unavailable. Remember that the fire service in your community is on a first-come first-serve basis, the first person to have an emergency in your community will receive service. The second person or place to have an emergency will receive service but it may be coming from the other side of the city or from the next closest city if your department is called elsewhere. 

For additional resources visit OSHA RESCUE SERVICE REQUIREMENTS where you can view the OSHA and NFPA standards, and download the Rescue Team Evaluation Tool.

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Tags: confined space rescue, rescue team, confined space rescue training

Is there more than one way to tie a knot?

Posted by Alex Zielinski on Tue, Jul 18, 2017 @ 02:29 PM

In high angle rescue or confined space rescue the crux of our rescue systems are our knots. It is important as a rescuer that you understand the strengths, limitations, and appropriate applications of the knots your team uses, but is there more than one way to tie each knot?

Is there more than one way to tie a knot? YES!

As an instructor and a rescuer it is important to know multiple ways to reach the same destination. What I mean by this is that you knowing multiple paths or techniques to reach your end result of a successful rescue is paramount since most teams operate in anything but routine environments.

As a rescuer you may be in a situation that is not routine, that doesn't lend itself to the one method you learned in that one class, that method to rig a system or tie a knot may not be practical because you are now inverted in a confined space with multiple patients below you.

As an instructor you may have students who have been tying knots since birth and others who have never held a piece of rope in their life. You cannot take the approach that the student just isn't getting it, perhaps you're just not teaching it the way that works for them. Knowing multiple methods may help you find the way that works for a particular individual - guide them, show them the other methods.

As long as any given method brings us to the same end result, without any extra twists or strain to the rope, and Rope rescue & butterfly knotwithout using an extraordinary amount of time, it is an acceptable method. The goal here is to be proficient in whatever you do and be capable of doing it and 3 A.M. when called to a rescue.

As an example, I am aware of three ways to tie an Alpine Butterfly or Lineman's Knot: the twist method and two variations on the hand-wrap method. Any of these three methods creates the chosen knot and any argument made for one method over the other is typically only a matter of preference since you are creating the same knot each time.  

Don't let yourself become the victim of routine or complacency. Because you ALWAYS work standby rescue for only two types of confined spaces, or you ONLY pick-off workers from a fall into their harness doesn't justify knowing ONLY that single method that you work with each time. At some point your routine will be broken, equipment will be missing or fail, or you'll have multiple patients outside of your routine situation. Get out of your comfort zone and never stop preparing. There are multiple ways to tie knots. Learn a new one today!

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Tags: confined space rescue, confined space rescue training, ways to tie a knot, butterfly knot

Confined Space Rescue Methods: Entry or Retrieval

Posted by Alex Zielinski on Mon, Jun 26, 2017 @ 08:57 AM

Confined space rescue trainingWhile there are countless rescue classes, instructors, books, and online resources to learn confined space rescue, there is no universal standard that dictates how a confined space or industrial rescue should be conducted. What should be universal is the careful assessment of the hazards within the space to create a safe environment for the confined space entrant. There are many common practices but what might be true and accepted in one part of the world may not be held in the same regard in another workplace. There are as many choices in rescue type as there are unique confined spaces in existence but generally there are two types – entry rescue and non-entry (or retrieval) rescue. No matter who might provide these services, fire departments, in-house rescue teams, or contract personnel on standby, it is important to understand the intended scope and limitations of each.

While our primary concern is the safety of the entrant, let’s consider for a moment the financial impact of non-entry and entry rescue. If the design and hazards of a given space allow for it, non-entry rescue requires far less investment by the employer and is a satisfactory rescue method. In its simplest form, non-entry rescue requires a tripod (or other anchor) and a winch rated for human beings (not tools and equipment). Any employee entering the space would require a harness in addition to the training required to perform entry, initiate a rescue, or operate as a confined space attendant. If there are no obstructions within the space, this can be daily routine for many in order to enter a space and it can be the rescue method – no additional personnel are required to enter the hazardous space in order to retrieve or rescue the entrant.

The leanest confined space rescue team, in terms of equipment, and streamlined and who is responsible confined space rescueto make entry in the event of an emergency will require countless hours of training to maintain proficiency in patient care, personal protective equipment, atmospheric monitoring, and rescue techniques. Additionally, there should be training which addresses the stressful nature of rescue when the rescuer personally knows the coworker needing rescue, as well as any additional hazards now present within the space. Confined spaces are hazardous at the start of a work day, if you have an emergency within the space it is multiplying the complexity of the incident. OSHA requires that entry rescue teams perform at least one rescue per year. The following statement may sound extreme – do you want a rescuer entering a confined space to rescue you if that rescuer has only performed one rescue? Your rescue team now has the need to perform under stressful conditions with a variety of equipment, within a variety of spaces, using one of hundreds of techniques to remove the entrant having an emergency.

What does this have to do with cost? You can maintain an OSHA compliant rescue team with team members performing one rescue per year, but they may be ineffective. As a confined space rescue instructor, I have encountered teams who train weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Those who only train annually may eventually rescue or recover the entrant. Those who train annually, when compared to rescuers who train monthly or more, typically lack the confidence and quick decision-making skill to accurately and expediently size-up the emergency, make entry, and retrieve the entrant.

With these considerations, your choice of entry or non-entry rescue may be quite clear in terms of your budget. However, if your confined spaces do not allow an unconscious person to be successfully retrieved from around, under, or over obstructions in your confined spaces you must have a safe and proficient entry rescue team.


“But, we call the fire department if we have a confined space emergency!”


Do you know the average response time of your local fire department? Depending on your location it could be less than five minutes, maybe ten minutes, possibly fifteen minutes, or even greater. Once you’ve assessed your fire department and their response time, add at least ten minutes. Why are we counting minutes? Let’s assume the team is available, their response time to your facility is only 6 minutes. Once they have arrived they will assess the situation, form a plan, gather equipment, and assemble at the space to begin rescue. If you are currently entertaining the idea of the fire department as your rescue team you must ask yourself, in the absolute worst atmosphere that your employees may encounter will they be able to hold their breath for 5-25 minutes? Eliminate any emergencies related to the space itself, consider only medical emergencies such as low blood sugar, cardiac arrest, or traumatic injuries from a fall from scaffolding inside the space. With a window of 5-25 minutes your employee may have gone from a very survivable situation to one that may not be reversible.


“What does this have to do with my non-entry rescue team?”


This has everything to do with your non-entry team because the next step in a failed non-entry rescue is entry rescue. Every non-entry rescue can quickly become an entry rescue because:

  • A collapsed entrant’s body position does not allow the use of a winch without further injury
  • An injured entrant may be positioned behind a wall, pumps, or other equipment in the space
  • The sludge pit, metering pit, or other space does not allow for use of an industrial tripod and that’s the only equipment your non-entry team has
  • Your non-entry rescue equipment, such as tripod and winch, have had a mechanical failure
  • The non-entry rescue personnel have not been adequately trained in the use of the tripod and winch

You may rely on non-entry rescue but someone but either your team or your fire department will be the next step if the chain of events are anything but routine.

The decision of rescue method comes down to the nature of the space and the proficiency of your team. Do your spaces have obstructions or a narrow opening that would make it difficult to remove an unconscious patient? If yes, you need to a plan for entry rescue. Do your spaces lack internal configurations and obstructions? Does the opening to the space make it possible to remove an unconscious person? If yes, you could initiate a non-entry rescue. No matter your choice, your method, or your hazards, no one wants a rescuer who has limited training, “just enough” training, or the “minimum requirement.” Create an environment for your rescuers and the expectations you have for them where you are building confidence, critical thinking ability, and they are demonstrating competency.

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Tags: confined space rescue, confined space, confined space rescue training