Confined Spaces Case Study Part 1 – Vertical Entry

A confined space is any space of an enclosed nature, where any danger of death may exist, from any number of sources. Working in confined spaces is a dangerous activity and should only be done if absolutely necessary, with a completed risk assessment identifying any and all risks that could be present, putting into place all safety measures to ensure the welfare of workers. These safety measures should include the provision of a specially trained and equipped rescue team, who can, if an emergency situation arises, perform the necessary assessment and rescue.

Only these fully trained and equipped specialist teams should attempt any kind of rescue, nearly two thirds of all deaths occurring in confined spaces are attributed to unprepared, poorly equipped people trying to perform an urgent rescue.

Regulation 5 of the ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’ say “you must make suitable arrangements for emergency rescue which will depend on the nature of the confined space, the risks identified and the likely nature of an emergency rescue. You should not rely on the public emergency services”.

Thornhill Power Station

Abfad Limited is one such company that provides confined spaces emergency rescue and safety cover for various industries, including the power generation sector. When on site providing these services they like to run exercises for all personnel involved in the confined space working, to demonstrate the rescue strategy and techniques that will be employed in an emergency.

One such emergency procedure test was conducted whilst providing rescue cover for Thornhill Power Station in Dewsbury. Abfad regularly work within many power stations throughout the UK, providing various rope access maintenance work during shut downs, as well as regular emergency rescue and safety cover for personnel working at height and within confined spaces.

Risk assessment

The scenario was based around the work that was to be carried out within the Abstraction Pump Pit, and covered all the likely situations that could occur and the rescue procedures and techniques that Abfad’s rescue team would employ to ensure any personnel were safely recovered and given the necessary first aid.

Inspection and cleaning was due to be carried out in the Abstraction Pump Pit, this pit is approximately 6m deep and can only be accessed vertically via removable floor gratings. The pit is classified as a confined space and has the following foreseeable specified risks attached to it, possible drowning from ingress of river water, possible asphyxiation from methane or hydrogen sulphide gasses disturbed from the residual sludge. Around 2cm of residual water and sludge from the river that presents a slip, trip or fall hazard is also present. Due to the nature of access to the pit, with the removal of the floor gratings, a significant fall from height risk also exists.

The Abstraction Pump Pit is contained in a gated and locked area and any persons in the area are required to wear a harness that is clipped onto a purpose designed lifting beam.

Rescue scenario

The scenario consisted of a worker, played by a member of the Abfad team, in the pit, slipping, and sustaining an injury requiring medical attention. The rescue started when the alarm was raised by the injured person inside the pit. The Abfad rescue team immediately reacted, firstly confirming that the atmosphere inside the pit remained fully breathable, and then entering the confined space via an access ladder. The Abfad rescue team member was wearing a harness at all times and connected to a secure fall arrest system.

Once inside the confined space the rescue team assessed the injured worker, determining that they were safe to move, they attached the rescue winch to the wounded person, which in turn was connected to a tripod system, to enable the injured worker to be safely raised from the pit. Once outside, in a secure area, further first aid and medical treatment could be administered by the rescue team and, if necessary, the emergency services.

The exercise successfully demonstrated to site personnel a basic, vertical entry, confined space rescue, and proved the effectiveness of the rescue strategy and techniques that could be employed in an emergency. Power station personnel commented that “The exercise was conducted very professionally by the Abfad rescue team” and that “The control of the work for the confined space rescue was to a very high standard”.

Abfad Limited have been established since 1996 and provide IRATA approved rope access services, including emergency rescue and safety cover for other people working at height or within confined spaces.

Injured Person being winched safely out of the confined space   Abfad rescue team setting up