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Planning for the Worst

Published: 03rd Mar 2015

Regardless of the operational requirements, industrial works locations invariably include technically challenging and sometimes hazardous environments. General attitudes and attention towards safety during elevated risk work, however, have changed immensely over the past decade.

This has mostly been as a result of globally positive education and awareness along with policing from relevant governing bodies. The current UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics are testament to this. The 2014 statistics include 133 workplace fatalities – the lowest recorded figure in 10 years. Within these statistics, fatalities assigned to mining during this period were four deaths. Other associated industries such as construction contributed 46 workplace fatalities within the same period.

While any loss of human life, especially while in the workplace is an unnecessary and tragic waste, these figures demonstrate that education and awareness in appropriate safety measures can and do make an overall difference in time. So, the industrial sectors can commend their combined efforts and we can all now relax about hazardous workplace environments – right? Well no, not really.

Is zero harm achievable?

All businesses work towards their own respective version of a zero harm policy in the workplace. Without debating if this is actually 100% achievable, it is a good basis from which to create and enforce an internal safety culture. Where this policing of risk and its subsequent potential downfall exists, however, is human error. All the while that there is breath in our bodies we have the potential to make mistakes – we are, after all, only human. It is this point that leads us to many of the unfortunate workplace fatalities that have taken place – somebody, somewhere made a mistake. Mistakes in many workplaces mean a new piece of computer code is written, a change in a document is required, or a product may need repairing. During elevated risk work locations, however, mistakes usually mean an operative is exposed to harm.

It’s this recognition of risk exposure, along with planning for a worst case scenario, which ensures workplaces are prepared and equipped to address a potential rescue if required. So what constitutes appropriate rescue arrangements? An understanding of the workplace environment along with all associated realised and potential hazards is a start. Or, as the HSE confined spaces guide states: “When things go wrong, people may be exposed to serious and immediate danger. Effective arrangements for raising the alarm and carrying out rescue operations in an emergency are essential. Contingency plans will depend on the nature of the confined space, the risks identified and consequently the likely nature of an emergency rescue. Emergency arrangements will depend on the risks. You should consider communications and rescue and resuscitation equipment.”

Appropriate first response

Since changes to the HSE confined space and heights regulations in 2008, businesses have had to assume more responsibilities to respond to site based incidents. In the event of a serious site based incident where someone is harmed, the statutory emergency services may still be required; however provisions must also be in place on-site for trained and equipped operatives to deliver an immediate response. Invariably, it’s this appropriate and immediate response that has the potential to reduce the severity of an incident’s eventual outcome. Any pre-planned rescue arrangements should be in line with the works being undertaken. They should also include a plan to accommodate any reasonably foreseeable incidents along with safety and medical equipment to achieve resuscitation in a worst case scenario.

When considering making on-site rescue arrangements, your selection will invariably fall into one of the following three categories:

1. Self rescue – As the name suggests, self rescue is the process of an operative recognising a potentially hazardous change during works, and facilitating his or her own extrication from the environment thanks to being equipped suitably. Fit for low to medium risk environments, equipment to support this action would include items such as harnesses, fall restraint, gas monitoring units, escape sets and other appropriate PPE. This would constitute the minimum required rescue provision for many site based activities, however, arrangements may still be required above and beyond this arrangement should the operatives not achieve a self rescue as planned.

2. Non-entry rescue – This is by far the best form of rescue where other persons are required to rescue or retrieve an incapacitated or impaired operative. The operatives are usually equipped as per self rescue operational works, but with the additional support of external operatives assisting in an extrication without the need to enter the environment. Equipment such as a tripod and winches or rope rescue kits where the entrant is always attached during works would support this operation. An obvious benefit of this type of rescue is that, theoretically, no other operatives should be exposed to harm.

3. Entry rescue – During works within a high risk environment there may be the requirement to facilitate an entry based rescue, as entrants may not be in a position to extricate themselves from harm. This is without doubt the most hazardous of rescue based activities, if for no other reason than multiple persons now being exposed to potential harm. Appropriate training and equipment is essential to undertake this form of rescue.

Whatever the method of appropriate rescue, prior planning and training should ensure that any retrieval of personnel should be executed swiftly, safely and with a positive outcome for all involved. If you can ensure that the operational requirements of working in a confined space will be put to one side by planning for a site based incident, including all associated hazards both present and introduced by the works party, then you should have factored the manpower and equipment needed to ensure an expedient extrication of a casualty if required in an emergency. In any given rescue based scenario, always manage the rescue, don’t let the rescue manage you.

Rescue and emergency care

It’s not enough to be able to get a person from a place of harm to a point of safety. After the works are planned and the emergency rescue provisions are in place, consideration to having appropriately trained first responders on-site should be given. It is good practice to have the same rescue operatives trained to a good level of pre-hospital readiness. This allows for appropriate medical considerations not only during the rescue, but also at a place of safety after the retrieval has been achieved.

If something can go wrong in the workplace it should be planned for with appropriate measures in place to meet it. On that basis, confined space works should include rescue and recovery equipment along with appropriate first response medical supplies, in line with the potential injuries identified. This should also include resuscitation equipment where the potential for respiratory or cardiac based injuries are indentified.

During a site based incident, personnel may encounter serious medical or trauma conditions that require an immediate response. Having personnel trained to a standard of at least first aid level ensures that life saving skills are present when needed. For conscientious employers, enhanced and bespoke first response training is readily available. Where a reliance on statutory emergency service assistance may be some time away, training to this level is a must. Training courses such as first person on scene (FPOS) or first response emergency care (FREC) have been created for individuals working remotely and responsible for providing a higher level of immediate emergency response. Achievable by most persons within a relatively short timeframe, this training includes key emergency treatments on a wide range of medical and trauma conditions. Additionally, the inclusion of relevant rescue and medical equipment to support a first response can expedite and support any rescue based activities.

Having delivered this level of teaching, we have often encountered site operatives that are initially resistant to undertaking rescue based medical training, as they feel an overwhelming burden of responsibility has suddenly been placed upon them. When you highlight that most people would immediately offer some kind of help and assistance during an emergency and that this level of training will merely enhance that natural instinct, however, their resistance often subsides. Undertaking this level of training is achievable to most persons and within realistic timeframes. When you consider that the decisions made and actions taken during and immediately after an on-site emergency may result in lives being saved or lost, undertaking this level of training becomes ever more sensible and relevant.


Taking the time to plan and make provisions to accommodate a worst case scenario during hazardous works isn’t excessive, it’s safeguarding. It safeguards the employer while also demonstrating due diligence during operational works. It also safeguards operatives when identified risks of harm are realised and site based incidents occur. Even though accidents can and do happen, nobody should be unduly harmed while at work. By supporting works with rescue provision and personnel you are, at the very least, potentially reducing a worst possible case outcome during the realisation of a site based incident. Plus, there are the legal ramifications of undertaking any risk related activities without addressing the appropriate rescue or response measures. Safety is everybody’s responsibility, from the top down. If companies conscientiously adopt a safe site ethos and approach to safety then that is usually subscribed to by operatives on site.

The worst place in the world to be is knee deep in an incident, without appropriate personnel or supplies to hand. You can also guarantee that accidents and incidents will never come with warnings, but will always occur when you least expect them. No planning in the world can accommodate every conceivable incident, but no planning at all will accommodate nothing.

Published: 3rd Mar 2015 in Health and Safety Middle East

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