Confined Space Rescue Walkthrough

Confined space walkthrough guide

In this walkthrough guide, we are going to show you how you can use a davit for confined space rescue.
What we do aim to achieve with this walkthrough is to give you and your crews a good sense of what it’s like to be on the ground for a rescue, to use the equipment, keep calm, and give the best help you can.

No guide, walkthrough, or training can entirely recreate what it’s like to conduct a rescue during an emergency. But some preparation will help you keep a cool head and move calmly and quickly, saving precious seconds when they matter most.

Let’s set the scene:

Steve hasn’t worked with you for very long, but you all like him. He’s funny, he works hard, and he has a young family at home.

Neither you nor Steve know this yet, but he’s about to have a medical emergency while working in a confined space.

You are the confined space attendant. Your job is to be outside of the confined space and to help raise & lower Steve. You know the protocols, the equipment, and, most importantly, you know what’s at stake.

Today, your job is about to go from the routine to the extreme. But that doesn’t mean you need to worry, because in your properly trained, knowledgeable, and confident hands, Steve will be okay.

We are going to walk you through this scenario using our experience and our knowledge of confined spaces, rescue procedure, and our equipment (using our Pelsue Portable Base Davit System as an example).

Before You Enter the Confined Space

Worker entering manhole using a Pelsue Davit

Confined Space Safety starts with planning well before an entrant crosses the threshold of the workspace.

We’ve discussed this in previous posts on confined space safety, but it absolutely cannot be said enough: proper preparation is key to preventing accidents in confined spaces.

You and Steve likely have general knowledge of plans and procedures for different types of confined spaces: manholes, utility vaults, trenches, etc.

Despite the value of this general knowledge, everyone should also know that each confined space is unique. Differences in layout, environment, and potential hazards necessitate specific plans for each job site.

We’ve covered the process of creating site-specific safety plans elsewhere in the past, so we’ll avoid going into too much depth in this post.

Suffice it to say that your crew, especially the ones who will be entering, supervising, and attending the confined space, need to be familiar with the specific hazards in and around the confined space.

This will entail studying the layout of the confined space and identifying features of the space that could either harm workers or prove an impediment to rescue and retrieval.

For example, is there a pillar or corner in between the area where work will be taking place and the confined space exit? A hoist line can only pull an injured worker in a straight line, so a sudden change of direction can cause a worker to get stuck or suffer further injury as they’re pulled past it.

Since this obstruction would make non-entry rescue impossible, the staff formulates a plan for stricken entrants to be guided out past the obstruction by a well-trained entrant. The majority of confined space deaths are from would-be rescuers, so the team takes care to designate the right people for the job.

A proper plan also considers factors outside the confined space. Especially if your jobsite is in an isolated, rural setting, how long does it generally take for first responders to arrive at your location? Are those responders trained and equipped for confined space rescue?

These external factors shouldn’t change your rescue plans and procedures per se, but they are important to know so your crew understands what to expect when it comes to outside help.

Once the plan is formulated, it’s presented to the crew and the supervisor ensures that everyone understands their roles. For this scenario, Steve will be entering the manhole to install a monitoring device, and you are the attendant, stationed just outside the entrance.

Lastly, before the work begins, all equipment involved is thoroughly inspected before it is cleared for use.

With that done, Steve puts on his harness, monitors the atmosphere in the manhole, and enters. You watch him the whole way.

Communicating During an Emergency

One of the most crucial duties you have as a confined space attendant is maintaining communication between the entrant and the team on the surface.

A confined space attendant raising or lowering a worker into a manhole.

As a confined space attendant, you are the vital link between entrants and the surface.

Whether you’re near enough to talk to the entrant or you’re using radio to communicate, keeping consistent contact helps everyone outside the space make sure the entrant is safe and provides useful updates on job progress.

Why can’t the attendant just rely on the entrant to report to the surface if something goes wrong? Because, of all the obvious hazards workers face in confined spaces, there are dangers that tend to sneak up on you.

That is exactly what’s about to happen to Steve.

See, Steve has a food allergy, and when you grabbed lunch together, his order got mixed up. He seemed a little out of it as you got back to work, but you chalked it up to a long day, and—crucially—Steve didn’t say anything himself.

Since he isn’t feeling quite right, Steve doesn’t notice his condition getting steadily more serious. As his oxygen supply is falling, Steve is on the verge of passing out.

Fortunately, Steve is going to be okay because he has you to watch his back.

Every few minutes you’ve been calling down to Steve, working just beyond your sight. You ask him how work is going and what his atmospheric measurements are. You monitor his responses for any signs of an unspoken issue.

When you call down for a check in and Steve is slow to respond—his speech is slurred and confused—you immediately call for the supervisor. Together, you call to Steve again. A few seconds pass, then several with no response.

It’s time to remember your planning and your training and come to the aid of your teammate.

Conducting a Confined Space Rescue

You should always have the rescue equipment you need on hand and ready to go: a line to clip to the worker’s harness, a hoist to pull them out, and an anchorage point for the whole system.

For the sake of our example, we’re going to use our Personnel Hoist and Portable Base Davit System. Though basic principles will remain the same, different equipment will call for different procedures.

Our LifeGuard system, for example, allows for multiple lifting systems to be mounted at once. A rescuer could descend while attached to a 3-Way SRL (protecting them from a fall and allowing you to retrieve them later) while holding the line for the personnel hoist that will attach to Steve’s harness.

As always, diligently follow the instructions for your specific equipment as outlined in its manual.

If your Davit, LifeGuard, or other anchorage assembly is not already put together, another crew member will now do that a safe distance away from the manhole before placing it above the entrance.

At the same time, another person will contact emergency services. Though you and your crew will be conducting the rescue, you shouldn’t wait to diagnose Steve’s issue before calling for help. Seconds count, and you’re ready to act.

Anyone entering the confined space to rescue Steve will have to follow the same safety procedures as any other entrant (which takes time, again highlighting the importance of saving time in other areas).

Even though Steve checked the atmosphere before entering and carries a gas monitor, the manhole must be checked again for gas or toxic fumes before sending in another entrant. Steve’s monitor may not be on, and gas may be present in the space.

Once the rescuer is harnessed and clipped into the line, they are lowered into the confined space. It is key here that you continue to perform your duties as a confined space attendant. Even a trained, equipped rescuer who will hopefully be just in and out is still considered a confined space entrant.

Stay watchful, stay in contact, and make sure the rescuer stays safe.

Worker suspended above manhole entrance.

After an incapacitated worker is rescued from a confined space, the work of giving them medical attention can begin.

The rescuer soon has Steve’s harness clipped to the line, and retrieval can begin. You turn the hoist crank slowly and evenly listening to the rescuer’s guidance all the while.

They let you know when to stop so they can adjust Steve’s position to ensure he doesn’t hit the pillar while being pulled along the line, and then the path between him and the exit is clear.

You turn the crank smoothly and evenly as Steve emerges from the manhole. You and the others lower him to safety and attend to what needs you can while you wait for the emergency responders.

Since you are operating the hoist, you still need to lower the line back into the manhole so the rescuer can clip in and exit themselves.

Once the manhole is evacuated, you move a safe distance away. Enough accidents have already happened today.

You don’t wake up in the morning thinking that day will be the day you save a life, treat an injury, or prevent disaster. But the reality of confined space work is that you may be called on to do just that.

With your training, guidance, confidence, and cool head, you and your crew stand a better chance of going home safe at the end of the day.

That is the reason we, here at Pelsue, go to work for you.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  •  What is a confined space rescue plan?

A confined space rescue plan is a document that outlines protocols and procedures for evacuation of a confined space based on that space’s specific layout, hazards, and other factors. For a more detailed explanation of confined space rescue plans, please see our prior post on the subject.

  • What is non-entry rescue?
    As outlined in an earlier post, a non-entry rescue is when an injured worker is retrieved from a confined space without sending in additional entrants. It is the OSHA-preferred rescue scenario, but is only permitted in situations where it can be reasonably assumed to work and when rescue equipment will not create an additional hazard to the worker.
  • Do confined space rescuers need first aid and CPR training?

OSHA requires that at least one member of the rescue team (or outside service) carry an up-to-date certification in both CPR and first aid. Additionally, all members of the rescue team are required to have passed this training. It is advisable for more than one member of your rescue team to carry a current certification, in case the other member becomes incapacitated.

  • How do I know if local emergency services are trained in confined space rescue?

If you must rely on municipal or private agencies for confined space rescue, it’s incumbent upon you to contact those agencies before deploying to make sure they meet the applicable OSHA criteria. OSHA gives employers evaluation criteria to help you determine whether an agency meets qualifications. You must name a rescue team (whether in-house or outside) before you enter a permit-required confined space.

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