“Call 9-1-1” Is NOT a Confined Space Rescue Plan

“Call 9-1-1” Is NOT a Confined Space Rescue Plan

Posted on November 13, 2018

Written by Nathan Rasmussen, Safety Trainer

House on fire?  Call the Fire Department!  Need to ensure that your child’s car seat is correctly installed?  Fire Department can help you out there too!  Arm stuck in a vending machine? Sure, why not! Need a confined space rescue? *Insert record scratch sound here* Nope!

If the “Rescue” section of your confined space program only discusses contacting emergency services, whether your business is within the boundaries of the City of Winnipeg or outside of the Perimeter Highway, you’re not performing a rescue; you’re recovering a body.

In 2009, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service had the fastest emergency response times in Canada at just under 5 minutes. But with no oxygen in a confined space, death occurs in 4-6 minutes. Factoring in that the emergency services personnel will have to park the truck, figure out who is in charge of the scene, find out where the victim is, and then actually gear up and get into the confined space, the possibility of them getting to your downed worker in time is essentially nil. But what if the issue is not an oxygen deficiency or heart attack? What if it’s a toxic gas? Or a mechanical injury? How much time will the worker have before emergency services are no longer required but funeral services are? 

The Regulations

The regulations require that your safe work procedures for working in confined spaces have an emergency response plan and rescue procedures that will be used in the event of an emergency [Section 15.2(2)(e)]. The regulations also require that you identify what equipment is necessary to perform a rescue [Section 15.3(e)], that the rescue equipment is readily available, and that the rescue procedures have been implemented [Section 15.13(a) + (b)].

Boiled down, the regulation essentially requires that if you have a confined space entry, you need to have a way to extract the workers, and you need to have it ready to go before workers enter the space.

The Difficulties

  • 60%+ of all confined space fatalities are rescuers (CDC – NIOSH). For every 1 worker killed in confined spaces, 1.2 rescuers also lose their lives!
  • Confined Space Rescue equipment can be expensive and requires specialized training.
  • Hazard Assessments for confined spaces and for confined space rescue may require specialized equipment, training, or education to perform.

The Steps Forward

Every process in your facility needs to start with a risk assessment, and confined space rescue is no different!

Based on the results of the risk assessments you should be applying the ”Hierarchy of Controls” to the hazards in each space, starting with “Elimination”. Can you remove the need to enter the space by changing a process, or removing equipment from that space? If a worker is required to enter a confined space to unclog a pump, can the pump be located at the entrance of the space with a suction hose routed inside the space?

Can you modify the space in such a way that it would no longer qualify as a confined space?  Is it possible to open the space up, improve ventilation, add access and egress points, or improve the access and egress points that you already have?

If elimination and substitution aren’t options for your confined spaces, you’re going to need to develop safe work procedures for entering the space and for rescue. If you decide to tackle the creation of the confined space rescue plans for your facility using your internal resources, it’s critical that you ensure that the folks performing the risk assessments and developing the control measures have the expertise necessary to identify all the hazards associated with your confined space rescue operations and document the risk assessment process.

Often, rescue equipment vendors may be able to offer support in identifying what equipment is available that will work best for your facility, but most are not confined space rescue specialists and it may be a better option for your company to work with a consultant that specializes in confined space assessment and rescue planning.  There are several Manitoba-grown companies that specialize in this work and are available to assist you in the creation of your confined space rescue plans.