TABLE OF CONTENTS Apr 2014 - 0 comments

A Matter of Survival

What is it like to train for and perform a rescue from a confined space? Carroll McCormick takes a close look.

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By: Carroll McCormick
2014-04-01

Humans have a powerful urge to race to the rescue when someone succumbs to a hazard in a confined space. Yet that is the worst possible reaction. Proper training and equipment, teamwork, cool heads and a disciplined sense of self-preservation are absolute necessities before ever trying to rescue anyone in a confined space.

“Every year, more people die attempting confined-spaces rescues than die in confined spaces at first,” states James Buntain, safety representative and industrial specialist at Survival Systems Training Ltd. (SSTL) in Dartmouth, NS. Like insects drawn to a honey trap, many workers have rushed to help fallen colleagues in confined spaces, only to die themselves.

Buntain is talking to the five-man crew of the Scotian Sea, an offshore support vessel belonging to St. John’s-based Secunda Canada. They are in Dartmouth to take SSTL’s three-day Confined Spaces Entry & Rescue (24 hours) course as part of maintaining their certification to perform confined-spaces rescues. I have joined them for the course.

The crew has already taken the Confined Spaces Entrant/Attendant course, so for them day one is a classroom review of regulations, hazards, techniques and fatal incidents. “Most confined space rescues are recoveries. The chances of getting someone out alive are slim to nil,” Buntain warns.

A confined space is defined as follows: It is enclosed or partially enclosed and has limited access/egress. It is not designed for human occupancy and can contain toxic fumes or substances.

Physical hazards include the risk of slipping, tripping or falling, heat, cold, corrosive chemicals, animals, poisonous spiders and sludge or scale.

Atmospheric hazards in confined spaces include hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide, oxygen deficiency or oxygen enrichment. “You always test oxygen levels first. Then test flammable range, then toxic gasses,” Buntain reminds us.

Buntain reviews elements of a confined spaces safety program; e.g., identify all confined spaces, hazard assessment, entry procedures, training and the confined spaces permit. He discusses gas detection equipment, lower and upper explosive limits and ventilation techniques. He reviews the rescue team positions, such as incident commander, rescue supervisor, rigging team and air supply officer.

After a few hours of lecture, films, and question and answer sessions, we pull on our coveralls and head outside to familiarize ourselves with the equipment and do some confined spaces rescues. The rest of the story is told in the photo captions. 

Carroll McCormick is MRO Magazine’s senior contributing editor. He is based in Montreal.


Photos

Two rescuers have located the victim and pulled him to a spot beneath the roof hatch. While attaching the haul system to his harness, they must also keep their own air hoses and lifelines from tangling. So far, the rescue has taken about 20 minutes. The tasks are realistic, completely absorbing and quite strenuous. Photo: Carroll McCormick
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Caption: Two rescuers have located the victim and pulled him to ...
This rescuer pulls himself across a space barely 18 in. high. Then, without getting his emergency tank, air hose or lifeline tangled in his partner's gear or otherwise caught on something, he wriggles up through a small hole and across another cramped level to locate the victim. Then he and his partner retrace their route with their completely uncooperative victim. Photo: Carroll McCormick
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Caption: This rescuer pulls himself across a space barely 18 in....
It takes teamwork to install and operate the four-to-one haul system on the roof of the trainer. Brakes require frequent repositioning during the lift, the backup line must be kept taut and the rigging team must communicate with the rescuers below. The victim's head must be kept clear of the hatch rim to prevent injury by the powerful haul system. Photo: Carroll McCormick
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Caption: It takes teamwork to install and operate the four-to-on...
For some of the exercises, two hard-working rescuers enter the trainer wearing supplied-air breathing apparatus, with air delivered through long hoses from pressurized tanks. The designated air supply officer monitors the air cart gauges and switches to full air bottles about every 10 minutes. To simulate an air supply failure, he shuts off the tanks without warning, forcing the rescuers to turn on their own emergency air supply tanks. Photo: Carroll McCormick
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Caption: For some of the exercises, two hard-working rescuers en...
Called a SKED, this carpet-like piece of gear is used to tightly package a victim for easier extraction. Unless the victim is very fortunate, however, the chances are very good that rescuers will be using it for a removal, not an extraction. Our author is wrapped up tight, but he's fine. Photo: Clarence Germain
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The crew of Secunda Canada's offshore support vessel Scotian Sea is ready for the sweaty part of their confined spaces rescue training. From left to right: Sandy Smith, deckhand; Clarence Germain, chief engineer; Mike Childs, master; Andrew Walbourne, deck hand; Nathan Scott, third engineer. Photo: Carroll McCormick
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Caption: The crew of Secunda Canada's offshore support vessel Sc...
Using specialized climbing knots and applied physics, the crew learns to build a four-to-one haul system, complete with brakes, called Prussicks (the orange and green ropes). It requires 12.5-mm rescue rope, 5,000-lb.-test carabiners and Prussick minding pulleys. Hung from tripod or davit access and retrieval systems, it reduces a near-impossible 200-lb. lift to a manageable 50-lb. effort. Photo: Carroll McCormick
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