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Confined Space Rescue

Introduction to Confined Space

A confined space is any enclosed or partially enclosed structure that is intended or likely to be entered by any person, has limited or restricted entry or exit access and contains a potentially harmful atmosphere. Examples include tanks, pits, chimneys, silos, underground sewers, tunnels and wells.

A confined space may contain a harmful atmosphere, dangerous vapours, flammable gases, oxygen deficient or oxygen enriched levels or stored substances that might collapse and engulf a person. 

In many instances, people killed in confined spaces die trying to rescue someone already overcome by a harmful atmosphere. Rescues should never be attempted without proper emergency management procedures and appropriate safety equipment such as air-supplied respiratory protective equipment.

Understanding Confined Space Hazards?

Toxic Atmosphere

A toxic atmosphere may cause various acute effects, including impairment of judgement, unconsciousness and death. A toxic atmosphere may occur due to the presence or ingress of hazardous substances. These substances may be present in the Confined Space for various reasons such as:

Oxygen Deficiency

Oxygen can be lacking a confined space for the following reasons:

  • displacement of air by another gas
  • various biological processes or chemical reactions (such as rotting of organic matter, rusting of metals, burning, etc)
  • absorption of air onto steel surfaces, especially where these are damp

Oxygen Enrichment

An excess of oxygen, in the presence of combustible materials, results in an increased risk of fire and explosion. Some materials, which do not burn in air, may burn vigorously or even spontaneously in an enriched oxygen atmosphere.

Flammable or Explosive Atmospheres

A flammable atmosphere presents a risk of fire or explosion. Such an atmosphere can arise from the presence in the confined space of flammable liquids or gases or of a suspension of combustible dust in air. If a flammable atmosphere inside a confined space ignites, an explosion may occur, resulting in the expulsion of hot gases and the disintegration of the structure.

Flowing Liquid or Free Flowing Solids

Liquids or solids can flow into the confined space causing drowning, suffocation, burns and other injuries.  Solids in powder form may also be disturbed in a confined space resulting in an asphyxiating atmosphere.

Excessive Heat

The enclosed nature of a confined space can increase the risk of heat stroke or collapse from heat stress, if conditions are excessively hot. The risk may be exacerbated by the wearing of personal protective equipment or by lack of ventilation.

Confined space defined?

Confined Space is defined by the WHS Regulation 5

An enclosed or partially enclosed space that:

(a) is not designed or intended to be occupied by a person
(b) is, or is designed or intended to be, at normal atmospheric pressure while any person is in the space;

and  is or is likely to be a risk to health and safety from:

  •  an atmosphere that does not have a safe oxygen level, or
  • contaminants, including airborne gases, vapours and dusts, that may cause injury from fire or explosion, or
  • harmful concentrations of any airborne contaminants, or
  • engulfment.

A confined space is determined by the hazards associated with a set of specific
circumstances and not just because work is performed in a small space.

Entry into a confined space means a person’s head or upper body is in the confined space or within the boundary of the confined space.

Confined spaces are commonly found in vats, tanks, pits, pipes, ducts, flues, chimneys, silos, containers, pressure vessels, underground sewers, wet or dry wells, shafts, trenches, tunnels or other similar enclosed or partially enclosed structures, when these examples meet the definition of a confined space in the WHS Regulations.


What is not a confined space ?

A confined space does not include a mine shaft or the workings of a mine.
The following kinds of workplaces are also generally not confined spaces for the purposes of the WHS Regulations:

  • places that are intended for human occupancy and have adequate ventilation,lighting and safe means of entry and exit, such as offices and workshops
  • some enclosed or partially enclosed spaces that at particular times have harmful airborne contaminants but are designed for a person to occupy, for example abrasive blasting or spray painting booths, and
  • enclosed or partially enclosed spaces that are designed to be occasionally occupied by a person if the space has a readily and conveniently accessible means of entry and exit via a doorway at ground level, for example:
(a) cool store accessed by a LPG powered forklift to move stock—although the use of a LPG powered forklift in a cool store can be hazardous, the door at ground level means that once the alarm is raised, escape and rescue can happen quickly, or
(b) fumigated shipping container with a large ground level opening that will facilitate escape and rescue.
Trenches are not considered confined spaces based on the risk of structural collapse alone, but will be confined spaces if they potentially contain concentrations of airborne contaminants that may cause impairment, loss of consciousness or asphyxiation.


Confined Space Emergencies

Confined space emergencies are one of the leading causes of multiple deaths in the workplace. In most cases the emergency begins with a single worker or multiple workers being overcome losing consciousness in the confined space. Unfortunately in many cases the first responder or person on the scene "rescuer" falls victim and becomes a fatality themselves due to poor systems planning, training and knowledge. It is estimated that about 60 percent of victims are would-be rescuers. Additionally, a majority of these individuals are supervisors and/or senior personnel who should understand the risks. There are many cases where the initial entrants survive and the would-be rescuers die.


Emergency rescue from a confined space

Make no mistakes this is one of the most dangerous life threatening events
for a rescuer if they are not properly prepared, trained or equipped. The challenges faced by a confined space rescue incident are many and usually plagued by critical time factors, deteriorating environments/atmospheric conditions and/or  poor availability  of resources and equipment.

Problematic also is the many confined spaces that would pose significant challenges for rescue entry. Some of these rescues can be very technical, thus pre-planning the rescue of each confined space on the premises is imperative for the rescue to be successful.

Types of Confined Space Rescue

 Self Rescue

Self-rescue is when an entrant is capable of recognizing a hazard and is able to exit from the space with no assistance. Many times self-rescue involves the evacuation of a space when the entrant feels ill. In this situation the assumption is that a hazard within the space is causing the problem and that space evacuation is
necessary until the problem is identified.

Non-Entry Rescue

Non-entry rescue, as the name implies, is rescue performed from outside the space. In some cases non-entry rescue is another name for body recovery whereby the victims who are trapped in "no entry spaces," or are in locations where the risk of entry far outweighs the need for retrieval.

Prior to entry, retrieval systems and body harnesses should be in place in the event that conditions change. In most cases non-entry rescue involves removal using these lines.  It's important to plan and conduct the entry with this form of rescue in mind. Pulley systems, tripods, and space entryways should be arranged so that there is minimal chance for line entanglement. Non-entry rescue cannot be used for an individual who is entangled, trapped, or bound-up within the space; it can be used for engulfment situations as long as the amount of engulfing material is small enough to allow the victim to be unearthed using line tension.

Where body recovery is undertaken for victims who are trapped in
"no entry spaces," or are in locations where access is not feasible rescuers
may have to utilise grappling lines, poles, hooks, or some
other remote means for body retrieval.

Entry Rescue

Entry rescue presents the greatest danger to the rescuer which results in the rescuer actually entering into the hazardous space. Entry rescues should be avoided whenever practical. If entry rescue cannot be avoided, then SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus), lifelines, harnesses, retrieval systems, and
appropriate levels of protective clothing are required. Planning and communication are vital in entry rescue. Since an entry is being made, all safety check protocols must be performed and an attendant will be required. If a change in the space is thought to have caused the emergency, appropriate testing and monitoring should be repeated.


Challenges of Confined Space Rescue

Vertical entry into tanks and vessels is relatively uncomplicated as long as a point of attachment can be made for a lifting device. Attachment to roof members, beams, or tripods on the tank make lifting easy. Tripods, however, are designed to lift from the center. A problem will be encountered if the patient needs to be lowered down the outside of the tank  since the center of mass would now be outside the tripod. Another point of attachment or manual lowering will be

Manholes are challenging because of their limited entrance areas. SCBA
backpacks may have to be removed and passed though the hole to allow
entrance. This is a very dangerous maneuver and should be attempted only by
individuals specifically trained in this procedure. Finding a point of attachment for a lifting device may be a problem if a tripod is unavailable.

Atmospheres that contain corrosive chemicals are a threat to the nylon harness and rope material. In other atmospheres where skin exposure poses a threat to the rescuers, chemical protective clothing must be donned prior to entry. The application of a body harness and lifeline to someone in a fully-encapsulated suit has its challenges. The bulky nature of the suit will also impede and restrict
movement in the space and in the space opening.

Patient Packaging

The extent of patient packaging is always a consideration when dealing with patients in hazardous locations and/or with life-threatening problems. Medical training classes always emphasize the immobilization of the spine for anyone who has been traumatized. Time and conditions may not allow for this in all confined space rescues. Perhaps the most relevant consideration is whether the individual is in an IDLH (Immediate Danger to Health) situation or has a life-threatening affliction. It does very little good to spend time immobilizing a person's spine if the atmosphere they are breathing is toxic, or the victim has no pulse or has severe airway problems.

There are associated risks removing the victim from the space without
immobilization. Spinal immobilization should occur whenever conditions permit.
Life safety is still your number one priority.

Rescue Plans

A rescue plan is a fundamental part of confined space entry planning. Without an appropriate plan how will rescuers know how to respond if a worker is trapped in a confined space, what the hazards are and what equipment will they use to extract victims out safely? If there is no plan, this could inevitably result in serious injury or death.

It could also be life-threatening if there is a significant delay in emergency response or if fellow workers carry out the rescue without appropriate equipment and training.

Rescue plans can be generic or specific. The type required will depend on the complexity of the rescue from the confined space and the anticipated emergency. A generic plan will not be sufficient for more complex situations. Therefore, rescue plans must contain enough information to execute a safe rescue.

WHS Regulations requires all PCBU’s to have adequate emergency procedures  in place for all confined space entries, and that these emergency procedures are documented and regularly reviewed and tested.

For your organisation to have a well developed confined space rescue capability, you should have the following 3 key measures in place:

    • A confined space rescue plan is completed for every confined space entry that occurs
    • Confined space rescue training is undertaken by relevant personnel based on the site-specific hazards and risks
    • Confined space rescue exercises form part of the overall emergency management plan for the workplace.


     Confined Space Training

    Confined space training must be relevant to those types of confined space rescue scenarios that rescuers maybe required to undertake. It is important when planning training that it is fit for purpose for your work site.  Make sure you seek advice from your training provider and discuss the types of rescues that must be undertaken, and the equipment available at your workplace. Typically the the training program should include the following and be nationally accredited. 

    • Confined Space Hazards and Control Measures
    • Confined Space Rescue Systems (rigging rope rescue systems, use of tripods and davits, stretcher usage, anchor points and re-directions etc.)
    • Rescue team duties, rescue size-up and planning (Team leader, safety officer, rescue team members)
    • First Aid and Patient packaging knowledge and skills
    • Breathing Apparatus usage in emergency response environments (Self contained breathing apparatus and/or airline breathing apparatus operations in areas of restricted movement)
    • Gas detection knowledge and skills
    • Various practical rescue scenarios based on the specific hazards of the workplace

    Confined space training should involve an emphasis on practical rescue skills, rigging skills, and patient packaging skills. Multiple scenarios should be run so that rescue team members can apply their skills and knowledge to varied scenarios, and participate in the various rescue team member roles. At the end of the course, participants should be able to respond to reasonably foreseeable confined space rescue situations on-site, develop a rescue plan, and complete a rescue of injured personnel within a confined space environment. It is highly recommended that training should be refreshed at least annually to retain core confined space rescue skills.


    Confined Space Rescue - Equipment Kit

    All equipment is to be used whilst wearing the appropriate PPE which could include  Full Fire Kit or specialist Rope Rescue clothing. 

    • Overhead Anchor
    • Tripod with winch
    • 6:1 Rescue Hauler
    • Inertia Reel
    • Retractable Lanyard
    • 2 x Full Body Harnesses
    • Helmets
    • Gloves if required
    • Safety Glasses if not wearing BA
    • Gas Detectors
    • Breathing Apparatus + Ancillary Equipment
    • Airline with Facemask
    • Extractor Fan with ducting
    • Hardware Roll to include the following
    • Qty Carabiners
    • Prusik Lines
    • Rope Protector
    • Qty Slings
    • Pulleys

    and effective method of communication is used at all times.

    Confined Space Conclusion

     It is really important to determine the objectives of the rescue before making entry. It is imperative for the leader of the rescue group, as well as each rescue team member, to evaluate all potential hazards. The atmospheric conditions, entanglement and engulfment hazards, the circumstances of the accident, the time involved, and the probable victim outcome should all be given consideration prior to entry. Do not put the rescue team at undue risk to try to rescue a victim who may have already died.


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