Two-thirds of all confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers. It is critical to use good confined space entry practices to prevent deaths so there is no need for rescue operations. Remember, even a well-planned rescue can end up as a body retrieval.
Rescues can be performed by any employee or a professional rescuer so long as they have been fully trained and qualified to act as rescuers. Qualifications include knowledge of and experience working with all hazards associated with rescue and confined space entry operations.
At a minimum, employers and workers should treat all confined spaces as hazardous. Before entering a confined space to attempt a rescue, a person trained in the proper use of a calibrated, direct-reading instrument must also test for oxygen content, flammable gases and vapors, and potential toxic air contaminants in a confined space. You should never trust your senses to determine if the air in a confined space is safe. You cannot see or smell many toxic gases and vapors, nor can you determine if sufficient oxygen is present.
Employers and workers should also:
Entering a confined space may be done for various reasons. It is usually done to perform a necessary function, such as inspection, repair, maintenance (cleaning or painting), or similar operations which would be an infrequent or irregular function of the total industrial activity.
Entry may also be made during new construction. One of the most difficult confined space entries to control is unauthorized entry, especially when large numbers of workers and trades are involved, such as welders, painters, electricians, and safety monitors.
A final and most important reason for entry would be an emergency rescue. Before the initial entry is made, all reasons for entry must be well planned, and workers must review the hazards thoroughly. Since deaths in confined spaces often occur because the atmosphere is oxygen-deficient or toxic, confined spaces should be tested before entry and continually monitored. More than 60% percent of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers; therefore, a well-designed and properly executed rescue plan is necessary.
Fatalities can occur when the rescuers:
It is essential 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, 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!
The importance of having the right rescue equipment on hand cannot be stressed enough. Rescue equipment may include:
All authorized entrants and rescuers entering permit 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.
Employees should use only devices designed and approved by the manufacturer for moving humans. The equipment must enable a rescuer to quickly 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: Do not use air-purifying respirators for confined space rescue.
Figure 1 shows a rescue team wearing air-supplying respirators inside a confined space, in this case a tank.
If a hazardous atmosphere exists in the confined space, such as toxic gases, employees may use an appropriate air-purifying respirator. However, if the confined space has a lack of lacks oxygen, an air-purifying respirator will do no good – there is no supply of oxygen to breath breathe in the first place. In this situation, an entrant would need to wear an air-supplying respirator. An air-supplying respirator will supply breathable air and will protect the entrant from breathing in hazardous air from the confined space atmosphere.
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