How we potentially saved two lives in one week

Confined Spaces Rescue - 9-1-1 is not an option!

We are taught that dialing 9-1-1 is used when there is an emergency; 9-1-1 is utilized when immediate response is required and generally to stop a crime, report a fire, or save a life. When someone calls 9-1-1, the telecommunications operator prompts when they answer with “Police, Fire, or Ambulance?”. Depending on your response or situation, the call will be transferred to the applicable Emergency Medical Service (EMS) for dispatch. At times, more than one agency will respond. With having such an amazing resource literally at our fingertips, why are employers not allowed to incorporate 9-1-1 in their confined spaces plan as an on-site rescue procedure?

The answer is this: on-site rescue must be ready for immediate implementation PRIOR to a worker entering the confined space. According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour Confined Spaces Guidelines, “The employer is responsible for developing a plan and ensuring that an adequate number of persons trained in certain rescue matters are available for immediate implementation of the on-site rescue procedures, before a worker enters a confined space.” The plan must assess all hazards and determine where the on-site rescue team is required, whether that be at the point of entry, or another area of the site. Either way, the on-site rescue team must be available for an immediate response situation.

Let me give you a couple of situations our trained Technical Rescue Team faced during a recent project. The client had developed a plan. They had rented Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) necessary for their employees to enter the confined space. They had our Technical Rescue Team as their on-site rescue standby. The space was tested for atmospheric conditions that determined breathing apparatus was required. An employee donned on his mask and proceeded to go into the space. He was stopped by our Team that recognized an immediate danger. The employee did not have the proper size mask and had not properly fit tested his PPE. There was no seal. A simple test, but a potential life-threatening situation. Without our Team being there, the employee would have entered and inhaled the toxic gases through the unsealed mask. By the time 9-1-1 would have been called and attendance made to affect a rescue, the employee would have been seriously injured or even deceased and a recovery would have taken place.

In the second near-miss, an employee was ready to go into the confined space with proper fitting PPE, however an alarm kept activating. He couldn’t determine the source of the alarm and it was ignored. The atmospheric conditions being constantly monitored showed the confined space was unfit. Despite knowing this and the alarm continuing, the employee attempted to enter the space. Our Team stopped the employee from entering and determined the compressed air tanks for the supply line was near empty. The alarm was from the tank. Had he entered without an on-site rescue team being available for immediate implementation, by the time a call to 9-1-1 would have been made, it would have been too late, and a life would have been lost.

During my time with the RCMP, I was an instructor in CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear and Explosive). Each person trained was fit-tested and provided their own mask. Firefighters, too, have a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) personal to him or her. They wouldn’t grab any mask from the shelf or wear their buddy’s out in the field, because they know the potential consequences. They face life-threatening situations daily and understand immediate dangers. For us, it only seems common-sense to ensure our PPE is properly fitted and that you have oxygen in your tank. However, it is the continual training we receive that ensures we do our checks. We practice with non-life-threatening agents to understand what a breach in our equipment feels like. We get it. Rented equipment however is just that - it is rented, not “personal” as the acronym suggests.

Employers rarely have the need to implement a Confined Spaces Plan as a daily occurrence, but more in times of maintenance or repair. Confined Spaces Training for employees may be a one-time thing and not a yearly exercise. Due to cost, PPE isn’t something most employers have issued to their employees. But adhering to the Occupational Health and Safety Spaces Regulations is required, especially when it comes to developing a plan that ensures an on-site rescue team. 9-1-1 is not an option.

For more information on how we can be of service to your company for Confined Spaces High Angel Rescue and information on our Technical Rescue Team, contact me at EMT.

Saving Lives is the Bottom Line.

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