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Rope Rescue vs. Winches vs. Cranes in High-Angle and Confined Spaces

It’s easy to panic or defer to incorrect impulses when a life is on the line. Experienced and highly trained rescue experts know when the use of winches and cranes could do more harm than good.

Minutes and even seconds matter in confined space emergencies. In addition to the complexities of the space itself, the victim could face a contaminated or diminishing air supply. 

It’s easy to panic in critical situations like this, so rescue plans for every conceivable situation should be established, understood, and rehearsed to ensure a rapid response. Ideally, any confined space rescue should be executed from outside. CDC research found that about 60% of confined space fatalities are rescuers.

Inexperienced personnel might face the impulse to enter the space or to use a winch or crane to extract a victim from a high-angle or confined space situation. However, experienced and trained rescue teams will know when those tools can actually add danger. In fact, in most cases, a rope rescue is the safest and most reliable option. 

Use of Cranes in High-Angle or Confined Space Rescue

OSHA strictly limits the use of heavy equipment for moving personnel because of the inherent dangers involved. This especially applies to victims of an accident. Any rescue plan relying on a crane without details that justifies its use would not meet OSHA regulations, and in few cases would there be justification for using a crane.

Moreover, being unprepared for a rescue does not qualify as justification for using a crane because it seems like the only available means of rescue at the moment. In other words, if you don’t have an appropriate plan in place, and suddenly find yourself using a crane to execute a rescue, it’s likely non-compliant and dangerous. 

A compliant rescue plan can include cranes, such as a stationary high point that can make a rescue operation easier. That said, using a crane that requires any form of movement with a rescue load should only be a last resort.

Use of Winches in High-Angle or Confined Space Rescue

It’s essential to understand the difference between a winch and a hoist. Winches are designed to pull heavy loads horizontally over level or slightly inclined surfaces. Hoists, meanwhile, are designed to lift a load vertically over inclines greater than 45 degrees.

Using a winch to pull a victim introduces potential dangers because the rescuer lacks an ability to apply “feel” to the lifting process. Winches typically have two settings: on and off. Without the feel control, it becomes difficult or impossible to pull a rescue load gently over an obstacle without jerking or catapulting.


Why Rope Rescues Make the Best Choice in High-Angle or Confined Space Situations

When moving a victim, the rescue team needs a system that fully considers the victim’s injuries. Cranes and winches can’t do that, whereas rope systems are specifically designed to provide infinite control.

With proper use of straps and a pulley system, a hoist can nimbly lift and lower rescue crew members, victims, and necessary equipment into and out of an enclosed space – and do it with a much smaller footprint than a winch or crane.

It’s also worth noting that thanks to pre-rigging, a rope system can be deployed as fast as any winch or crane configuration and generally more safely.

Experience Saves Lives

Cranes and winches can introduce dangers to victims and rescuers in high-angle and confined space rescue situations, which is why OSHA condones their use in only specific circumstances.

Rope rescues offer the safest and most effective option, but it’s important to have only highly trained and experienced personnel on the ends of those ropes. Inexperienced rescuers run the risk of becoming another bad statistic for the industry.

SITEX understands the importance of executing the fastest and safest rescues in confined space emergencies. When lives are on the line, it’s vital to rely on proper techniques and training to save lives. Our rescue crews understand the jobs, create plans, and pre-rig to ensure everyone that enters a confined space comes out alive. Don’t rely on anything less for your workers.


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