Factors in an effective confined space rescue plan
Working in confined spaces comes with significant hazards, making it imperative that rescue plans are in place in case of an accident or emergency. According to the Australian code of practice, employers have a legal requirement to ensure that first aid and rescue procedures are not only established, but also rehearsed so as to be as efficient and effective as possible. This is in addition to reducing the likelihood of an emergency occurring by identifying and controlling confined space hazards, and providing appropriate training and permits.
Hazards and safety controls
Common dangers associated with working in confined spaces include: poor air quality, fire hazards, crushing and trapping hazards, and high noise levels. Other risks include: drowning, engulfment and explosions, with many typical work dangers increasing when in a confined space due to the enclosed atmosphere and limited ability to move.
As well as addressing the specific hazards present, there are also certain requirements for safety procedures when working in confined spaces, including:
- confined space entry permits
- adequate training and information for workers and standby support
- a standby person outside the confined space
- appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
- first aid and rescue equipment
- safety harnesses and lines when there is a danger of falling
- clear signage regarding entry permissions
- well-ventilated and clean spaces.
Despite the existence of these safety procedures, lack of training and adequate safety systems remains a leading cause of death in confined spaces. Fire Safety Australia found that 92% of confined space fatalities in Western Australia were primarily due to inadequate entry training. Furthermore, more than 90% of fatalities had inadequate supervisor knowledge and supervision as a secondary cause of death, with only 15% of organisations having appropriate procedures in place.
Contractors were more at risk of death than those with a regular place of employment, making up 60% of fatalities. Internationally, they found that 60% of deaths occurred during an emergency rescue procedure. Rescuer fatalities increased significantly when workers were not adequately trained in potential hazards and safe rescue procedures for injured workers.
Employers must establish confined space rescue plans, including rehearsals and rescue exercises to ensure preparedness in the case of an emergency. As part of rescue procedures, employers must ensure that openings and exits to confined spaces are unobstructed and large enough to allow emergency access. Additionally, any plant, equipment or PPE required for an emergency rescue must be available and maintained in good working order.
While hazards may be similar, each confined space is unique and a customised emergency rescue plan should be established for each space. Factors to consider include:
- the location of the confined space, its accessibility in an emergency and distance from medical facilities;
- communication of workers inside the space with those outside, including who will raise the alarm in an emergency and activate the rescue procedure;
- access to the space by emergency personnel on holidays, weekends and night shifts;
- the types of emergencies that are likely to occur, and the appropriate rescue and resuscitation equipment needed, including their storage in close proximity;
- adequate size of entrances and exits for all potential equipment and emergency personnel, or an alternative method of safe entry and exit;
- training, fitness and capability of rescuers to carry out the emergency plan;
- protection of rescuers during an emergency operation, including PPE;
- availability of first aid equipment for immediate use, including the presence of first aid-trained personnel;
- the process for notifying emergency services of an incident, including any prior arrangements regarding response time, and communication and availability of equipment upon arrival.
In the event of an emergency, rescue should be performed from outside the confined space if possible. Rescuers must be provided with appropriate respiratory protective equipment (RPE) if they enter the space. Air-supplied RPE should always be used in a case where the person to be rescued has been overcome by lack of oxygen or airborne contaminants.
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