As potentially dangerous as confined spaces are to the workers in them, in the case of a threatening situation, confined spaces are just as dangerous to rescue teams. Since 1993, two out of every three deaths in a confined space were by people who only entered the confined space to rescue or assist someone else.

To help reduce the number of fatalities caused this way, OSHA has implemented Confined Space Standards for both general industries: OSHA 1910.146 Permit-Required Confined Spaces in April 1993 (known as Horizontal Standards) and specific industries: for example, 1926.1200 Confined Spaces in Construction in August 2015 (known as Vertical Standards).

OHSA has included in the Vertical Standard OSHA 1926.1200 Confined Spaces in Construction 5 changes and updates over the OSHA 1910.146 Permit Required Confines Spaces for general industry standard. These standards are similar, with these important distinctions.

  1. The Construction standard requires more coordination of workers if there are multiple employers on the work site. As an example: a generator running outside the entrance of a confined space causing Carbon Monoxide to build up in the confined space.
  2. The construction standard requires a competent person to evaluate the construction site for confined spaces and any hazards.
  3. The construction standards requires continuous air monitoring.
  4. The construction standard requires continuous monitoring for engulfment hazards.
  5. The construction standard allows for the suspension of the permit, instead of cancellation.

Along with these changes it also clarifies issues in the general standard, such as, if the company in question plans to rely on an outside agency, such as the fire department, for rescue from a confined space there must be an established line of communication and a plan in place prior to entry into the confined space. And most of all it requires that the employer provide a callback number to the fire department for them to call if they are not available for the rescue. If the fire department responds to fire or other 911 incidents, training, or have equipment out of service that would not allow for a timely rescue.

“Simply planning to call 9-1-1 is not an appropriate plan,” former firefighter and current Pearl Engineering Safety Consultant Scott Burkart said. “Not all fire Departments are trained and have the proper equipment to provide Confined Space Rescue.

Rescue Service Techniques

There are three rescue service techniques available for companies that work in confined spaces. Not all confined spaces are the same and it is not safe or smart to assume one type of rescue will act as a catch-all. For those reasons, these techniques will likely change from organization to organization because of the many important factors surrounding confined spaces and their hazards.

In-house Trained Rescue Team

Likely the most ideal situation is to have an experienced and trained rescue team in-house ready, available and willing to assist at a moments notice. This team could be designated or consisting of people who serve other roles but are trained in confined space response and rescue.

If this is the technique of choice, there must be a reliable and immediate means to summon the rescue team immediately after the danger has been determined.

However, there is a combination of hurdles for many organizations for having an in-house response team, including having a large enough staff to cover confined space rescue requirements especially on night shifts and weekend.  Members of the team must also be trained in a variety of proficiencies including CPR, basic first aid, Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), confined space rescue training and training with all technical rescue equipment like ropes, respirators and harnesses on an annual basis.

The benefits of having a faster response team that is familiar with the environment, however, are tremendously helpful. Keeping an adequate number of rescues trained is costly and requires a large time commitment from the rescuers and the employer.

Dedicated Rescue Services

Professional rescue teams are out there, willing to assist you. These teams are highly trained, deeply involved in rescue tactics and techniques, are often better equipped, better trained and better prepared for a variety of rescue operations.

So, what’s the problem with dedicated rescue teams? These kind of highly trained rescue teams are not always readily available because they may be servicing others or simply not even available in your area. Calling upon their services is also often quite costly.

Fire Departments

Because of the challenges of supporting an in-house team and the often unavailability of dedicated rescue teams, fire departments become the default option for rescue aid for many organizations. Before you put your faith and company’s safety in the hands of a fire department, however, you need to do some homework first.

Some fire department may be more knowledgeable and experienced with confined space rescue than others, so an open line of communication and understanding must be established immediately so you can evaluate their prowess in rescue.

Consider the following questions: Are they willing to assist? How quickly can they respond? Are they equipped and trained? How far away is the fire truck with the confined space rescue equipment?  How many confined space trained responders are available? These questions are even more relevant for volunteer fire departments, which in some areas be your only option.

It does not matter who you designate as your confined space rescue team, as a requirement for your rescue plan, the onus of making sure they are properly equipped, trained, and can respond in a timely manner, actually falls on you, not the fire department.  A tool for evaluation of your confined space rescue team can be found in the OSHA 1910.146 Standard appendix F.

Confined Space Rescue Plan

A confined space rescue plan is necessary for any organization that works with confined spaces. This plan outlines roles inside and outside the organization, as well as states what kind of rescue service technique will be implemented.

Along with implementing your Confined Space Rescue plan, the use of the  Incident Command System (ICS), to effectively control your confined space entry and if the event arises your rescue,  is crucial and potentially the difference between life and death.

Scott Burkart is dedicated and passionate about the safety and security of homes, businesses and the people in them. His services are available as a consultant, inspector and educator of a number of safety, prevention and construction courses.

For questions or inquiries, contact Scott at, or learn more about confined space safety here.