What is Confined Space Rescue?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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When disaster strikes, whether through act of nature, accident or intentional destructive act, many different types of response teams may be called into action. Survivors who are trapped in a small space require a confined space rescue in order to reach safety. Efforts to rescue people trapped in confined spaces are often dangerous, and emergency situations that involve confined spaces account for a proportionally large number of deaths. Proper training in confined space rescue techniques can help increase the odds for survival for both the people trapped and the rescuers.

It may be necessary to perform a confined space rescue if a person becomes trapped inside a silo, pipeline, or other small space that is not easily entered and exited. These types of rescues are extremely dangerous both for the person who is trapped and the one attempting a rescue. Firefighters and other rescue personnel routinely die in these emergency situations.

Most deaths that occur in accidents involving confined spaces are the result of asphyxiation. A poisonous atmosphere is one hazard that can kill a person who is trapped in a small space. More often, however, a gradual decrease of oxygen is the cause of asphyxiation. For this reason, many businesses that have potentially dangerous confined spaces have a method for getting additional oxygen to a trapped person.


If the person who is trapped is uninjured, it may be possible for them to perform a self-rescue, assisted by people on the outside with ropes or lifting equipment. Vacuum or personnel removal devices may also be used in a confined space rescue, though these pieces of equipment are expensive and not readily available. It is important for coworkers or others not trained in confined space rescue methods not to enter a confined space to try to perform a rescue.

Any space that a person can fit inside but not easily enter, exit or move around in is considered to be a confined space. Some confined spaces are large once a person enters them and others are just large enough for one person to fit inside. Common examples of confined spaces that people may become trapped in are underground storage bins or tanks, silos, pipelines, and pits. Some confined spaces may be made more dangerous by the presence of flammable materials or a hazardous atmosphere. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines these types of confined spaces, as well as confined spaces that contain a health or safety hazard, such as live wires or machinery, as a “permit-required confined space.”


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