Confined spaces: Emergency procedures

August 26th, 2011

You can take all the right precautions, use all the correct procedures and accidents can still happen. Some factors will always remain outside your control, so having emergency procedures in place is essential, especially for confined spaces.

What do you need to do?
Anyone who conducts a business or undertaking must establish first aid and safety procedures before any work can go ahead. However, thinking up the procedures is not enough, because they must be practiced and well understood by all employees.

Entry and exits for the confined space must be openings sufficiently large enough to allow emergency exits.  These openings must also be free of any obstruction. All emergency and protective equipment must be kept well-maintained to ensure they are fit for purpose when needed.

What do you need to consider?

Nature of space and work
Taking into account the nature of the confined space will ensure your emergency procedures are best suited to the hazards associated with this particular space. Where is the space located and how will this effect access to appropriate medical facilities in an emergency? Thinking about the type of work to be done inside and outside, as certain practices attract different hazards, can also narrow the possible risks down.

Communication
Being able to contact someone in an emergency can save lives, so ensure you investigate how communication will occur, especially between those on the inside and outside. How will the alarm be raised, and from which emergency service will help initially be sought? Remember, emergency personnel will also need to know how to access the worksite, which can be difficult in situations such as road works or mines.

Which emergency is most likely?
By identifying the most likely emergencies to occur, you can develop extra efficient procedures by acquiring specially suited rescue or resuscitation equipment. This equipment could be kept in close proximity in order to be used immediately.

Play out a hypothetical situation
Pretend the likely emergency for your workplace has occurred, and you’re now notifying local emergency services- how will you do this? Find out in advance how long they estimate it would take to reach your location, and have other emergency procedures ready to begin while waiting for the emergency services to arrive.

What if employees must complete the rescue operation?
If the emergency services are predicted to take longer to arrive, the rescue operation must be conducted by workers. Ensure they are provided with, and know how to wear air-supplied respiratory protective equipment. Often in confined space emergencies the oxygen level or whether the atmosphere contains harmful concentration of any airborne contaminant, may be unknown so breathing protection is the best precaution.

What if the person being rescued is unconscious?
In this case, the exit would need to be big enough for two people. Potential problems with the entrances should be identified and assessed in earlier preparation, and then incorporated into the emergency procedures discussed above.

Even though it sounds pessimistic, always expect and prepare for the worst. Make sure relevant workers practice an important procedure, and understand the purpose behind it.