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Confined Space Attendants – More than just a “Hole-Watch”

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Whenever I go out into the field for a rescue stand-by job, I always take note of the attendant.  I will always talk to them in order to try and gauge this person’s level of knowledge about confined spaces in general as well as the particular entry that is being made.  Unfortunately, more often than not, I discover that this worker has very little experience or very little training in confined spaces.  Most of these workers tend to be the “low-man” on the work crew and seem to just be “thrown” in to that position.  A lot of the facilities and contractors seem to have the attitude that anyone can be the “hole-watch.”  This can be the major ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

When OSHA created the Confined Space Regulation (29 CFR 1910.146) they included a list of the “roles and responsibilities” of the Entrant, Attendant and Entry Supervisor.  A cursory glance at the responsibilities of the attendant paints a picture of someone who is acutely tied to the overall safety of the operation.

These are some of the highlights of the attendant’s duties:

    - Know the hazards that may be faced during the entry, as well as the effects of those hazards
    - Monitor conditions inside and outside of the space
    - Call for the evacuation of the space in the event of an emergency or the detection of a prohibited condition

When you look closely at these duties, you’ll see that this is a lot more than just some “body” standing outside of the space.  For example, in order to monitor the conditions inside a space, most attendants are handed a two- or four-gas air monitor and sent out to the space to “sniff” the air inside.  The untrained or inexperienced “hole-watch” will likely not be aware of the numerous things that can affect the atmospheric testing results. Things such as the techniques used to calibrate the monitor, or the oxygen content of the air, or the concentration of certain gases can all skew the readings of a monitor.  I have also seen, on at least two occasions, a ventilation fan being placed within a few feet of a bank of gas-powered welding machines.  In one case, the carbon monoxide readings inside the space reached a high enough level to actually set off the alarms on the atmospheric monitor.  These are things that unqualified workers are simply not going to know about.

Not only do the attendants out in the workforce need to be better trained, they also should be brought into the planning phase of the entry operation.  The attendant should attend pre-job meetings as well as assist in the process of making the space safe for entry.  In one entry that I witnessed about 10 years ago, a very well qualified attendant was present.  The entry was into an underground vault that housed a large water main.  The entrants were installing a new valve into the system.  Because the attendant had helped shut down and isolate the space, he was familiar with the system in general.  Once the repairs to the valve were completed, a call was made to re-pressurize the line in order to make sure there were no leaks present.  The attendant ordered the entrants to exit the space while the pipe was brought up to pressure.  The entrants argued that they needed to be there to tighten up any leaks that might develop, but the attendant was adamant that they leave the space.  As the pressure in the line climbed higher, it ruptured and the entire vault filled with water in about 30 seconds.  It happened so fast that no amount of pre-rigging for rescue would have saved the two entrants.

A well-qualified attendant can have a definite impact on the entire project.  It is unfortunate that many times they are looked at as just some person standing outside the space – instead of a key component in the overall safety of the entry operation.

Author:
Bryan Rogers
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Roco’s Rescue Team Challenge Fall 2011

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Rescue Team Challenge is a two-day event that puts industrial rescue teams to the test against confined space and elevated rescue scenarios designed by Roco’s top instructors. The event is limited to six (6) teams only, so reserve space early!

    - Learn from participating in realistic rescue scenarios.
    - Gain confidence in your skills and teamwork abilities.
    - Enjoy excellent training while interacting with rescue pros.
    - Share ideas, experiences, and techniques with teams from across the nation.

OSHA Compliance

    - Document your team’s confined space response capabilities.
    - Meet annual practice requirements in varying confined spaces types.
    - Confirm individual skills proficiency.

Trophies are awarded to the teams with top scores in Individual Skills Proficiency and the infamous “Yellow Brick Road” rescue-relay challenge.

Roco’s Rescue Challenge provides the most realistic rescue experience possible! For information and pricing CALL 800-647-7626.
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Myths and Misunderstandings

Thursday, July 01, 2010

How often have you heard the statement “I will just call 911 if we have a confined space emergency”?  Let’s dispel some common myths and misunderstandings regarding confined space rescue compliance.

In accordance with OSHA 1910.146 (d)(9) an employer that will have personnel entering Permit Required Confined Spaces at their workplace must “develop and implement procedures for summoning rescue and emergency services, for rescuing entrants from permit spaces, for providing necessary emergency services to rescued employees, and for preventing unauthorized personnel from attempting a rescue.

Meeting this requirement can be accomplished in several ways…

    - Develop an in-house rescue team made up of host employees.
    - Contract with an outside third party rescue team.
    - Coordinate with local emergency services (“911”).

Whatever way an employer chooses, there are specific evaluation criteria that must be met according to 1910.146 (k)…

The rescue team must be capable of responding in a timely manner and reaching the victim(s) within an appropriate amount of time based on the hazards of the confined space.  On-site teams (in-house or third party contracted teams) are generally better able to meet this requirement.

The team must be equipped and proficient in performing the type(s) of rescue that may be encountered.  Can they walk the walk, or just talk the talk?

The employer shall ensure at least one member of the rescue team is currently certified in CPR/First Aid.

The employer shall also ensure that the designated rescue team practices making permit space rescues at least once every 12 months from the actual spaces or representative spaces in regards to opening size, configuration, and accessibility. Representative spaces shall simulate the types of permit spaces from which rescue is to be performed.

Non-Mandatory Appendix F – Rescue Team/Rescue Service Evaluation Criteria

These are some but not all of the requirements of an initial and periodic performance evaluation of the rescue team:

At a minimum, if an offsite rescue team is being considered, the employer must contact the service to plan and coordinate the evaluation of the team based on 1910.146 (k).  Merely posting the service’s phone number or planning to rely on “911” to obtain these services at the time of a permit space emergency would not comply with paragraph (k)(1) of the standard.

Can the rescue team respond in an appropriate amount of time based on the hazards of the space?  For known IDLH hazards or hazards that can quickly develop into IDLH conditions, on scene rescue standby is required.  For non- IDLH hazards, a response time of 10-15 minutes may be adequate.

Will the offsite rescue team be available to respond to a confined space incident or is there a potential they will be out of service on a separate incident and unable to respond?

If necessary, can the rescue service properly package and retrieve victims from a permit space that has a limited size opening (less than 24 inches in diameter) or from a space that has internal obstacles or hazards? Does the service have the capability to provide rescue from an elevated location using high angle rescue techniques?

About the Author:
Patrick Furr, employed with Roco since 2000, has been actively involved with technical rescue since 1981. He is a Roco Chief Instructor as well as a Team Leader for our on-site safety services in New Mexico. Pat teaches Confined Space Rescue, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Fall Protection programs across North America. He is a retired U.S. Air Force MSgt/Pararescueman.
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