255138 Confined Space Emergency Response: Assessing Employer and Fire Department Practices

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Michael Wilson, PhD, MPH , Labor Occupational Health Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
An emergency response plan for permit-required confined space entry is essential for employee safety and is legally required. Some employers turn to fire departments to meet their emergency response requirements.

We present: (i) data on the U.S. occurrence between 1992 and 2005 of confined space fatal incidents involving toxic and/or oxygen-deficient atmospheres; (ii) survey data from 21 large companies on confined space emergency response practices; (iii) data on fire department arrival times; and (iv) estimates by 10 senior fire officers of fire department rescue times for confined space incidents.

Between 1992 and 2005, 431 confined space incidents that met the case definition claimed 530 lives, or about 0.63% of the 84,446 all-cause U.S. occupational fatal injuries that occurred during this period. Twelve (57%) of 21 surveyed companies reported that they relied on the fire department for permit-required confined space emergency response. The median fire department arrival time was about 5 minutes for engines and 7 minutes for technical rescue units. Fire department confined space rescue time estimates ranged from 48 to 123 minutes and increased to 70 and 173 minutes when hazardous materials were present.

The study illustrates that: (i) confined space incidents represent a small but continuing source of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S.; (ii) a sizeable portion of employers may be relying on public fire departments for permit-required confined space emergency response; and (iii) in the event of a life-threatening emergency, fire departments usually are not able to effect a confined space rescue in a timely manner.

Learning Areas:
Administration, management, leadership
Occupational health and safety
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines

Learning Objectives:
1) Describe 3 kinds of risks to workers in who perform work in a confined space emergency response 2) Describe 3 design features of confined spaces that increases the risks to entrants 3) Discuss 2 limitations of fire departments in responding to a confined space emergency 4) Describe the implications for workers of employers who rely on fire departments for emergency response to a confined space incident 5) Describe an appropriate role for fire departments in an employer's confined space emergency response plan 6) List three actions workers can take to ensure that an effective emergency response plan is in place before entering a confined space

Keywords: Occupational Injury and Death, Labor

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the principal investigator for this paper and the primary author. I am an Associate Research Scientist at UC Berkeley and Director of the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.