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Why 911 Shouldn’t Be Your Confined Space Rescue Plan

Many companies rely on 911 and local emergency responders as their confined space rescue plan. Unfortunately, it’s a bad plan.

OSHA does make it possible to utilize local emergency crews as a compliant confined space rescue plan, but it’s worth noting how difficult it is to satisfy all the requirements. It’s a practical impossibility in most cases.

The regulatory agency has noted that not all emergency responders have adequate training and equipment to conduct confined space, high-angle, and other permit rescues. A few, usually larger, departments may have highly skilled and specially-equipped personnel to address confined space accidents. Still, the reality is that many fire departments forego extensive confined space training and equipment due to the significant expense and the relative infrequency of the need for it.

Legal Standards for Using Local Emergency Crews in Confined Space Rescue

Any employer relying on local emergency services to satisfy OSHA standards must meet three primary requirements:

  • Ensure the responder can arrive at the site in a timely manner (usually only a few minutes);
  • Ensure the responder has the appropriate training and equipment to enter the specific confined space;
  • Ensure the responder has proficiency in the needed rescue services.


Those emphasized words help explain why it’s so challenging to meet OSHA’s standards for using 911 services. Let’s explore each of the requirements a little further.

The responder must arrive in a timely manner

OSHA has established 3-6 minutes as an appropriate response time, dependent upon the nature of the incident. And that’s not just time to arrive on the scene, but OSHA expects administered care in that time, creating a logistical impossibility in most cases.

If the nearest fire station is more than a six-minute drive, you’re already non-compliant. Additionally, if a railroad crossing exists between the fire station and your worksite, the responders can’t commit to serving as your rescue plan because they can’t guarantee direct access to your site in the event of a train passing by at the time. Furthermore, local responders also encounter other emergencies – they aren’t on standby just for your worksite emergency and may not be readily available for your call.

The responder has the appropriate training and equipment to enter the specific confined space

Properly equipping and training firefighters to respond to confined space emergencies requires a lot of time and money. Often facing restrictive budgets, it’s easy to understand why many municipal departments would apply their resources elsewhere. Fewer and fewer departments maintain adequate training and equipment for CSR, and it’s even rarer that those with the resources get opportunities to practice those skills to satisfy the following requirement …

The responder has proficiency in the needed rescue services

While open to some interpretation, OSHA’s use of the word “proficient” puts a significant onus on employers and responders to be fully educated in all sorts of confined space situations. Consider that OSHA defines more than 20 different types of confined spaces based on different sizes and shapes of the openings and locations. The employer is responsible for certifying that a local emergency department is “proficient” in the exact rescue services needed.

‘Call 911’ Is Not a Plan

Based on the above criteria, simply writing “call 911” on your confined space rescue plan would not comply. The employer has a legal (and moral) responsibility to contact the local emergency service and confirm that it can meet the criteria for the job. In too many cases, employers skip this step and the rescue plan essentially turns into a recovery plan. Even when this step is carried out, there’s a growing likelihood that the local response team will advise they aren’t prepared or capable of satisfying the requirements.

People die in confined spaces when no adequate rescue team is on site. Furthermore, statistics tell us two would-be rescuers die for each victim attempted to save. In too many cases, it’s because inadequately prepared local responders put themselves in danger due to an employer’s negligence.

The surest way to meet regulatory requirements and provide the safest confined space environments is to have an on-site or standby crew like those offered by SITEX. If your worksites include confined spaces, contact us to explore how we customize confined space safety for your business.

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