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What risks need to be considered when rescuing someone from a confined space?

By Steve Prentice | Last updated: July 7, 2021
Presented by Honeywell Industrial Safety

What Is a Confined Space?

A confined space is a workspace that limits free movement while working, especially with regard to safe entry and exit. A relatively large space like a railway tank car is still considered a confined space due to its single trapdoor entrance.

Who Is Allowed to Work in a Confined Space?

Usually these areas require technical experts such as mechanics, welders, or electricians, but every individual who enters a confined space must have received confined space training.

(Learn more in Working in Confined Spaces? You Need the Right Training.)


What Are the Biggest Dangers in Confined Space Rescue?

The primary danger can be the environment itself if toxic atmosphere, fire, crushing, or falling hazards pose an immediate danger to an individual. But the most universal danger is inadequate planning, preparation, training, and protocol, all of which must be established long before an individual enters a confined space.

(Learn more about The Dangers of Gas in a Confined Space.)

What Risks Need to Be Considered When Rescuing Someone from a Confined Space?

  • Immediate risks to life such as air shortage, poisons, potential explosions, potential electric shock, fire, water, crushing, or falling
  • The status of the injured party (e.g. difficulty breathing, confusion, panic, inability to communicate) and the nature of the injury (e.g. broken bones, bleeding, head injuries, cardiac issues)
  • The status of the rescue team (preparedness, availability, awareness of the location and its dangers)
  • Ingress and egress dangers such as obstacles, static discharge, and hidden dangers
  • The need to send additional people into the rescue scene – the more people in a confined space, the more dangerous it can become
  • Safety gear – adequate ropes, pulleys and other hoisting equipment, correctly anchored and weight rated for the operation; breathing apparatus, safety clothing, and lighting charged, tested, and ready
  • The carriage of bulky gear, such as breathing apparatus and ladders
  • Corrosive atmospheres that might cause unseen structural damage to nylon harnesses, and metal objects that can be a source of spark or static discharge
  • Tunnel vision and other distractions that can cause rescuers to get lost, injured, or use poor judgment
  • Inadequate planning and training – every element of a confined space situation must be clearly and thoroughly analyzed, and all team members must have regular training and, in the case of CPR, certification
  • Inadequate communication due to obstacles, noise, static, or darkness

Confined space situations are among the most dangerous workplace situations. When things go wrong, it can cost more than just the life of the injured worker. Procedures and plans must be regularly reviewed, with hands-on training required for all team members who may be involved in a confined space rescue, in any capacity.

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Written by Steve Prentice

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Steve Prentice is a project manager and a specialist in productivity and technology in the workplace. Much of his work focuses on techniques for creating and maintaining safe and healthy working environments. He believes new educational technologies will go a long way in establishing policies and practice that support safe and balanced work, while blockchain tech will assist greatly in the process, and he assists companies in adopting these as new best practices. He is a published author of three self-help books, and is in high demand as a guest speaker and media commentator. His academic background is in organizational psychology and project management.

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