The right tools for the job - industrial vs technical rescue

3M Fall Protection
By Emmett McGregor*
Wednesday, 20 February, 2013

Working at heights continues to be a key issue within the safety world and despite continual education we still see workers falling both with safety systems in place and without.

Legislation, education and due diligence motivate us to put systems into place on the jobsite that are intended to protect the workers. With proper planning, training and equipment selection, these programs prove quite effective. Most effective programs find a balance between the needs of the workers to get their jobs done and providing a functional heights system. They will either eliminate the possibility of workers falling or reduce the effect of falling by stopping them before they hit the ground or something else on the way down.

A key component to these programs is dealing with the after-effects of falling by providing a safe and efficient rescue program. This component of working at heights is often overlooked with the assumption that a call to ‘000’ will suffice. Safety managers soon discover that reliance on emergency services may not meet the requirements as put forward by relevant standards (ie, ASNZS 1891.4) or for that matter relevant state and territory legislation. With further investigation, hopefully prior to an accident, it becomes apparent that some form of rescue capability must be available on site. The level and type of response should be evaluated based on the needs and capabilities of the site and adjacent resources. Rescue tools chosen should likewise reflect the needs and capabilities of the site and the level of training maintained. A properly designed heights program rescue should fit the site, not the local trainer or salesman. So let’s take a look at two different directions to heights rescue (industrial rescue and technical rescue) and key factors in setting up your rescue program.

Industrial vs technical rescue

While many companies seem to struggle with the concept of developing a self-supporting rescue program, rescue in industry is anything but new. For a hundred or more years, mines rescue has been an integral component of working at a mine. Major gas and oil refineries around the world have had not only rescue teams but fully equipped fire departments providing fire, rescue and medical first response. However, the more recent development and refinement of height safety legislation has brought the need for rescue to much smaller and less equipped companies. This shift in combination with tightening budgets has created a need for rescue to be conducted not so much by a dedicated rescue team but by the very workers that are at height. It is this very shift that has created the division of rescue into technical rescue and industrial rescue.


Industrial rescue represents the side of the market where co-workers may and will be called on to effect the rescue of a fallen worker. The concept of ‘peer rescue’, whereby you may conduct the rescue on a co-worker who was working with you, brings with it some very unique requirements and specific rescue tools. Characteristic of industrial rescue, the depth of knowledge of the rescuer is reflective of the job itself rather than conducting rescues. Their rescue training and skillsets may only be suited to the particular situation that they are in during that job and certainly would be limited to the rescue tools on hand. Simplicity then is the key to success of a peer rescue, both in tools and techniques. For a mechanic, whose primary concept of rescue is likely to be to call 000, the desire to learn knots and improvised systems is limited at best. Thus, industrial rescue kits are typically made up of pre-rigged kits that allow a worker to remove the kit from the bag, attach it to an anchor point and then attach it to the fallen worker, raise them, disconnect their current system and lower them to the ground. As mentioned earlier, simplicity is key, such tools as those found within the Rollgliss Industrial Rescue range (R250, R350 and R500) simplify rescue to a point where limited training is necessary to provide a safe and efficient solution.

Technical rescue, however, takes a less simplistic approach to providing rescue solutions. Where the focus of industrial rescue is peer rescue, technical rescue is more team based, using the well-developed skillsets of rescue leaders and practised teams. Improvisation based on extensive training and experience will provide a rescue ability that may span a significant number of situations. It is the versatility of technical rescue which normally sees rescue tools being components of a system rather than a pre-rigged system itself. Rescue technicians are normally very passionate about learning and practising the skills that make it possible to evaluate a scenario and put together the components for a rescue solution from their various pieces of kit. It is also this versatility that demands continual practise so that the implementation of those solutions becomes second nature. Rescue tools such as the Rollgliss Technical Rescue Line, formerly SRTE provides a wide array of components that can be combined to deal with anything from a suspended worker to various components of a major urban search and rescue operation.

So which is better, technical or industrial rescue? This is a difficult question and certainly should be based on the needs of the site versus the current trends and bias of a training organisation. It is very common to choose rescue techniques based on the style of training received, not necessarily because it is the best solution but it reflects the knowledge base, or worst yet, the current stocking situation of a sales group or training agency. Like choosing the right hammer or spanner to complete the job, choosing a rescue style must suit the needs of the site and workers. While a true needs analysis should be conducted for the site, the following will address three key factors that should be included: site analysis, worker skills and training/practise opportunity.

  • Site analysis: Take a look at the jobsite and the work being conducted. In developing a rescue solution, you need to evaluate whether there is a need for individual workers to conduct the rescue or whether a dedicated team may be available. For example, workers who are often in remote locations may need to have the skillset to retrieve a fallen co-worker, tower workers, utility workers - even some maintenance workers would fall into this category. Typically, in these situations the remote nature of the work will require some form of peer rescue rather than waiting for a dedicated team to respond. It is also important to evaluate the site in relation to the specific jobs and response times.  For example, mines have a long history of maintaining technical team-based rescue. Yet there are several locations where the response time of the rescue team necessitates the use of industrial peer rescue to get workers to a safe area where the rescue team can then take over. How complex is the worksite? Often the fact that a single site may include various plants and work areas increases the need for a diverse rescue team with the tools and techniques to adjust to the particular situation.
  • Worker Skills: Determine how workers normally access areas of height - Do they use EWPs? Do they climb? What is their technical skill level for working at height or working in suspension? The less that their job focuses on accessing areas of height (using EWPs versus climbing) the more likely their training and practise will be focused on completing the job versus climbing techniques. In this case, introducing highly technical rescue techniques will require very intensive training and practise sessions to learn and maintain the necessary skills. In contrast, if workers are relying on their skillset to access areas of height (arborists, show riggers, etc) then their technical base will enhance their ability to learn and maintain the skills necessary for more technical rescue.
  • Training: What opportunities and motivation do the employees have to learn and practise new rescue skills? Like anything, successful rescues require training and practise. The more opportunity to practise rescue the more likely that a real rescue will go smoothly. However, budget and time restraints often limit the amount of training available to develop and maintain rescue skills. In addition, workers often lack motivation to put themselves at risk for others when they aren’t comfortable with the techniques or equipment. This is often the most significant determining factor for industrial versus technical rescue. As industrial rescue will use pre-rigged kits that normally require less training, the decision can easily be swayed to this style simply because there is not enough time or motivation to train for technical rescue techniques. Often on large sites that have a variety of hazardous situations, the simplicity of industrial rescue techniques and tools may not address the needs of the workers. Often with the right support of the companies involved, worker motivation is higher and it becomes much easier to develop a technical rescue program. Rescue training may be viewed as a perk and workers will often come in on days off to practise. In these situations the diversity and versatility of technical rescue far outweighs the investment in training and practise.

Choosing the right method of rescue is no different from choosing the right method of accessing heights. It should always be evaluated on a thorough analysis of the needs of the site and the workers. Where rescue skills, tools and training/practise are limited, the techniques and tools of industrial rescue are best suited. Where worker skills lean more to technical access or the opportunity for establishment of a well-trained rescue team is present, then the versatility of technical rescue fits the bill. With most OHS legislation requiring rescue capabilities wherever workers are put at risk of a fall, companies and individuals are looking for a suitable solution. Ensure that the solution presented fits your site through analysis of the site variables, work environment, skills available and opportunity to learn and practise new skills. Where our goal is always to work safely and not require rescue, we can’t ignore it and need to choose the right tool for the job.

*Emmett McGregor is Global Product Manager, Access & Rescue with Capital Safety, a designer and manufacturer of fall protection and rescue products.

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