A confined space is defined by OSHA as a space large enough and configured so that a person can enter and perform assigned work; has limited or restricted means for entry and exit; and is not designed for continuous human occupancy. Confined spaces could include tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers and vaults, among many others.
There are three areas all organizations should be aware of when managing or starting a confined space program: training, equipment and policies.
Organizations should begin with training personnel to respond to confined space situations. This training will provide the understanding of the equipment needed and what policies need to be developed and implemented. There are three levels associated with confined space training.
The awareness level is very basic and teaches students to recognize a confined space situation and how to activate a confined space rescue team. It also covers topics such as how to do a non-entry rescue and site control and management.
One step up is the operations level of confined space training. This level of training includes everything in the awareness level, plus additional education to allow for actual confined space rescue. The rescue only can occur once at least four trained individuals are on site.
The technician training level covers all topics in awareness and operations, but includes vehicle and machinery search and rescue training. The technician level represents the highest level of training, experience and competency.
All training should be well planned and done on a regular basis for confined space rescuers to become proficient. Confined space rescues are very complex and utilize many other disciplines such as rope rescue, hazmat and vehicle machinery search and rescue. Because of this, it is hard to stay proficient in confined space rescue.
When looking at confined space rescue equipment, as with any other type of equipment, it is important to research and purchase equipment that has been proven effective by others. Look at what other confined space rescuers are using and look at the equipment the training facilities are using and how they package their equipment.
There is a chance your organization may already own some of the necessary equipment for confined space rescue. Many disciplines utilize the same types of equipment.
As with all types of rescue, policies and standard operating procedures are important to the safety of confined space rescuers. It is extremely important that all involved are on the same page and have the same information.
Your organization may be called upon to respond to a confined space rescue. When this happens, will your confined space rescue team be trained and equipped? Their lives, as well as the lives of others, depend on it.
About the author: Lt. Paul Gunnels is a paramedic with the College Station Fire Department in College Station, Texas, and has been in the business for 20 years. He is an adjunct instructor for the Texas Engineering Extension Service’s Emergency Services Training Institute and is a squad officer for Texas Task Force 1, a FEMA recognized urban search and rescue team.
About TEEX: The Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) is a member of the Texas A&M University System and offers hands-on, customized first-responder training, homeland security exercises, technical assistance and technology transfer services impacting Texas and beyond. TEEX programs include fire services, homeland security, law enforcement, public works, safety and health, search and rescue and economic development.