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How Do You Rescue Someone from a Confined Space?

September 13, 2021

It was a routine day with the public works department. You and a co-worker were just asked to check out the sewer in a residential area. The neighbors were complaining about a bad smell coming from one of the manholes. Your co-worker climbs down into the manhole to investigate.

Then, he goes silent. You think you hear a thud and shine a flashlight down to see what’s going on. He looks unconscious, slumped against the ground inside the manhole. What do you do?

We know this scenario seems extreme, but it’s not uncommon. If your gut response is to jump into the space to rescue them, think again. More than 60% of confined space fatalities are people who were trying to help (NIOSH).

The Rescuer’s Mindset

A rescue is pulled off successfully by people who are trained to do so. Jumping into a confined space without proper training or pre-rescue preparations will almost guarantee your shared fate with the victim.

A rescuer responds in emotionally intense situations with calmness. They prioritize the safety of themselves and their fellow rescuers first. After all, rescuers can’t help others if they are not properly protected as well.

That being said, if you aren’t a trained rescuer, the most you can do in this scenario is call for help and wait. Even if you are a trained rescuer, you alone do not make up a rescue team. At the very least, a rescue team consists of 4 people: the entrant, attendant, entry supervisor, and incident commander.

3 Phases of Confined Space Rescue

Let’s revamp the scenario a bit. Say you are one of the members on the rescue team who arrives on scene to rescue the victim from the manhole. What’s first?

Size up the scene. You would want to talk to the employee who was outside the space to learn about what happened. You would also need to survey the area to make sure it won’t pose further dangers to your team. You would also refer to the confined space permit (if there is one) to learn about the layout and hazards of the space.

Then, you would begin entry preparations. There’s a lot that needs to happen very quickly to save this victim’s life. Set up barriers around the area to keep the public away. Perform atmospheric monitoring. Lockout and tagout any hazardous energy sources feeding into the space. Don the proper PPE. Install ventilation. Set up the rigging system, including the retrieval line.

It’s only after you’ve performed the necessary preparations that it’s safe to enter the space. In this scenario, your goal would be to extract the victim from this space as quickly as possible. It’s likely there’s a hazardous atmosphere present (which you would have determined from atmospheric monitoring). You may provide them with air and package them for removal.

Of course, there are many more details that help you perform a safe rescue, but we can’t cover them all in a blog post. If you want more information on confined space rescue, check out our new Confined Space Rescue Safety Training.

Good luck and stay safe!

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