By Ben Peetz
A late evening call comes in for an individual entangled in a chain at a local sawmill. No big deal, right? However, on arrival, you find a situation you never expected. The victim is trapped high above the ground; his leg is entangled in a heavy log conveyor chain that has wrapped him partially around a drive gear. Now what? Do you know how the equipment operates? Can you confirm when the power is off and the scene is secure? Do you have the resources to reach the victim? Can your equipment handle the extrication tasks at hand?
This scenario is based on an actual case study; this story of a young man working late to make a repair is not fiction. The victim was making a repair on a chain drive. To improve his reach, he decided to climb up and sit on the conveyor chain. Because the equipment had not been properly locked out, a shorted drive circuit caused the drive motor to jump, pulling the victim into the pinch point as the chain advanced. The chain could not be reversed, and the victim was trapped. The proper energy isolation had to be determined and confirmed before rescuers could do anything, since they already knew that improper procedures were the cause of the initial incident. During the rescue, personnel had trouble reaching the victim, and the extrication equipment could not meet many of the needs because of the weight of the involved equipment. The facility maintenance personnel ended up performing much of the extrication; the drive equipment had to be disassembled or torch-cut and then secured in place or carefully lifted away to avoid dropping the victim or equipment to the area below. Fortunately, the young man survived after an hours-long extrication process. A good preplan may have made this rescue much more efficient.
Preplanning activities at manufacturing and industrial facilities often focus heavily on the potential for fire or hazardous-materials situations. Attention typically goes to personnel evacuation, fire loading, building construction, chemical storage, and automatic suppression systems–all of which are vitally important to a complete emergency preplan. But, what about the potential need for a specialty rescue? How much time do you spend looking at processes and equipment in an effort to anticipate where incidents may occur and review your capabilities to respond?
A typical industrial environment may include things like elevated work areas, high-voltage components, moving chains and belts, pinch points, confined spaces, suspended loads, heated or pressurized fluids, and compressed gases. The preplan assessment should look at areas where a human component is likely to interact with the hazard in a way that the two could come together, creating the need for a rescue.
Ask questions to find out what tasks personnel may perform in a given area, such as maintenance, cleaning, or repairs. Focus attention on moving parts and other hazards like confined spaces and potential engulfment. However, do not focus exclusively on the potential for an injury, as not all rescue situations may require emergency medical treatment. In some cases, properly functioning safety equipment will protect a person from serious injury, but outside rescue assistance will still be needed. This is the case with harnesses and other fall protection, which may restrain a victim from falling to the point of injury but put him in a position that does not facilitate a self-rescue.
Focus on areas where personnel could come in contact with multiple hazards at one time. For example, maintenance on unloading equipment in an agricultural silo could present an entanglement situation inside a confined space that is filled with a potential engulfment hazard. Additionally, entry way to this area may be very limited, accessible only by ladders or man-lift equipment to the top of the silo. Remember, many victims will be in the situation because the environment was not properly secured at the beginning of the task.
Securing the Scene
On arrival, a key tactical priority should be securing the scene. Energy isolation and hazard control must occur for responders to safely work a scene. However, in a specialized environment, you may not be able to rely on your initial size-up alone to give you a complete picture of the hazards present. Without a clear plan on the types of energy and hazards present and how they can be adequately controlled, a rescue may be adversely delayed while the scene is assessed and secured. A pre-emergency assessment of energy and hazards compiled into a documented plan will provide for a more efficient response in an emergency.
A complete hazard and energy preplanning assessment should include the following:
· Hydraulic (pressure and accumulation)
· Pneumatic (compressed air)
· Thermal (heated liquids, etc.)
· Gravity (suspended loads)
· Kinetic spring tension
· Fluids and flowable dry matter.
The assessment should note which of these hazards are present, as well as isolation procedures for the given energy source. All rescue personnel must understand the concept of a lockout/tagout (LOTO) program. It may be beneficial to review a company’s written LOTO program for emergency preplanning. The idea of the LOTO standard is to protect personnel who may perform service or maintenance on machines and equipment capable of “unexpected” startup or release of stored energy. Hazardous energy control procedures are effective only if they protect all personnel who would be potentially exposed to the unexpected energizing of components or a release of stored energy. The important thing to keep in mind in a rescue situation is that your incident may very well have been triggered by an improper work procedure or an incomplete energy isolation.
Facilities with complete lock-out / tag-out plans should be able to provide you with energy isolation information for each specific machine or process. This will include the identification of energy sources and related controls, as well as the procedures and equipment needed for the isolation of each source. In facilities where a LOTO program is minimal or does not exist, you will need to ascertain this information prior to initiating a rescue. Electrical powers is typically the primary energy source to be considered, but do not proceed without identifying any additional energy sources and confirming that no immediate hazard exists.
Facilities that do not identify and properly label electrical controls will delay a rescue effort while this information is determined. Keep in mind that a general shutdown of power to an entire facility or an area may not mean that the energy hazard is eliminated. Some equipment may have a stored electrical charge within the components that can still pose a danger if not properly deenergized. Additionally, a total power outage to a facility would preclude any use of the installed electrical equipment to facilitate the rescue. This emphasizes the importance of having a documented plan for energy isolation.
On the flip side, you may find yourself in a situation where the powered equipment may need to be activated to facilitate rescue of a victim. In this instance, you must understand the operations of a lock-out/tag-out program and know the implications involved with any decision to bypass the procedure. Employer procedures and training for removal must have been developed, documented, and incorporated into the employer energy control program. Generally, a person’s lock and tag must not be removed by anyone other than the individual who installed the lock and tag unless that removal is accomplished under the direction of the employer and the program. If your incident involves a piece of equipment that has been locked-out or tagged-out by additional personnel, you will need to have each of these individuals account for their safety and remove their locks/tags. Without this verification, you risk endangering other workers who are being protected by the LOTO program. For more information on LOTO programs, review the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Lockout/Tagout Standard, 29 CFR 1910.147.
For hazards that cannot be isolated or eliminated, proper actions must be taken to control the hazard. For example, in a situation that presents the potential for engulfment, you will need to take appropriate safety measures to mitigate the hazard to a manageable risk. In some cases, it may simply mean keeping personnel away from a particular area because the hazard cannot be reduced to an acceptable level. This may be the case with suspended loads or spring-loaded equipment where the energy cannot be released or otherwise dissipated.
Accessing a Victim
Industrial and manufacturing environments can present many scenarios where patient access may be limited or your capabilities may be tested. Structures and equipment may pose obstacles like confined spaces, restricted entry, heavy equipment, or excessive heights.
Confined spaces could be in any number of forms, including things like boilers, silos, pits, tanks, hoppers, equipment housings, and ductwork. By definition, “confined spaces” are not necessarily designed for people, but they are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs. A confined space also has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy. Some confined spaces may fit the definition even with limited space within the compartment; others may have adequate space to maneuver inside but have limited access to enter the compartment.
“Permit-Required Confined Space”
OSHA uses the term “permit-required confined space” to describe a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics:
• contains or has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere;
• contains material that has the potential to engulf an entrant;
• has walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant; or
• contains any other recognized safety or health hazard, such as unguarded machinery, exposed live wires, or heat stress.
Preplanning activities should specifically note confined areas where personnel are known to enter. In some cases, these areas will be labeled and posted. You may need to ask questions about personnel access, especially in the case of equipment housings or ductwork. Note access points as well, since areas where access could be created, if a situation calls for this.
For elevated areas, you will need to understand how personnel regularly access these areas and then determine if you will need to use an alternative means of access. Also, be sure to take a look at the weight ratings for the elevated work platforms or surfaces. These areas may not be engineered to support the weight of a team of rescuers, especially when rescue equipment is added to the equation.
Need for Additional Resources
In a proper preplanning approach, you may identify scenarios where your organization is not adequately equipped or trained to provide for a rescue on your own. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as you go the added step of determining who you will call to assist in those situations. This may involve contractors who can provide equipment, or it could mean calling in specialized mutual-aid who will handle an entire operation.
In determining your own capabilities, look at the scenarios and apply your equipment and training to the possibilities. For example, determine if your ladder equipment can reach all elevated work areas. Will you rely on the facility stationary ladders, man-lift “elevators,” or crane equipment? Do you have a working knowledge of man-lifts that are in place in some facilities, and do you know their capabilities and limitations?
In some cases, the need for specialized equipment may be satisfied by the facility. it may already have production equipment that can serve in a rescue capacity. Alternatively, if you identify a specific need that you believe will be absolutely necessary to provide a rescue, the facility management may choose to purchase a given piece of equipment to enhance your operation. In recent years, many grain facilities across the Midwest have purchased grain rescue tubes fire department personnel can use to accomplish a safe rescue in a grain-engulfment situation.
Be sure to include in your plan any needed additional resources you have identified so that proper mutual-aid or other assistance can be dispatched or requested at the time of the call.
The Formal Plan
A pre-emergency assessment should be compiled into an easily referenced written form. This may be a hard copy or electronic plan as long as the information can be quickly retrieved. Consider including photos of given areas that the incident command staff may reference if members are operating away from the immediate rescue area. Include contact information for all parties in the plan. This will be important if an incident occurs outside of regular work hours.
Some large facilities may have documented emergency action plans that can incorporate some of this information. However, if the overall response plan will reside at the facility, the plan is best developed as an independent document that will be deployed in an emergency, as is a safety data sheet book. In some instances, the facility may choose to have certain facets of your response plan incorporated into its action plan, to the point where some employees may begin securing the scene, isolating hazards, and gathering resources that may be needed for rescue.
Other elements, such as the anticipated need for an air ambulance, especially in rural or remote areas, may need to be considered. Since many rescue scenarios could be lengthy operations, a suitable on-site landing zone on site should be considered. In this case, the company management may need to incorporate a plan for clearing a parking lot or yard area to provide for the landing zone.
Why Plan Ahead?
Many facility managers will argue that there is no need to have all of this information in a plan because knowledgeable employees will be on site at the time of an emergency. However, when an emergency occurs, who will be involved? Will it be one or more of these knowledgeable employees? In an emergency situation with a coworker, will those employees be thinking clearly enough to give you complete and reliable information? Finally, what about that one-off instance where an employee stays late to do some maintenance and then ends up needing rescue before other employees return to the scene?
No matter what situation occurs, proper pre-emergency assessment and planning can prove valuable in providing a safe, efficient operation. For a specialized rescue, this will ensure that you have the proper equipment and training available to do what you need to do.
(1) Pre-emergency assessment and planning for rescue can help to identify areas where you could reasonably expect a response to be needed. This photo shows multiple hazards in one area, including a cyclone (confined space), a conveyor (entanglement hazard), and semi-trailer (engulfment hazard). For the most part, these hazards are at ground level, which reduces some of the complications for access and response. (Photos courtesy of author.)
(2) Anticipation of an incident starts with asking questions. When touring and preplanning a facility, never be afraid to ask, “Does anyone ever go inside there?” In this case, these clamshell bins have mechanically activated unloading doors at the bottom, which could trigger an engulfment situation if opened while someone is inside a loaded bin. Note the ladder access to reach the equipment and openings at the top.
(3) Proper isolation of energy is key to protecting emergency responders and reducing the risk of additional injury to a victim. In this case, even a small machine presents an energy exposure since the pneumatic clamps are held by compressed air pressure. If the pressure is applied or released, the mechanisms will activate, which could cause an injury to someone who is in a pinch point at the time.
(4) Button, button, who’s got the button? In an emergency situation, you will not be able to isolate power to a given component unless you know which control does what. From disconnects to motor start/stop buttons, all electrical controls should be properly and prominently labeled.
(5) Note where access hatches are for various structures. They are great indicators of places where personnel may enter a hazardous environment and where a rescue may be needed at some point.
Ben Peetz, CSP, CFPS, is a second-generation fire service veteran with the Napoleon (IN) Volunteer Fire Department, where he has served in various roles for more than 20 years. He is an Indiana International Fire Service Accreditation Congress fire instructor and has taught classes for multiple years at FDIC. He has been a contributing author to Fire Engineering magazine, as well as a number of manufacturing and industrial digests and newsletters. He has worked full-time over 10 years as a senior loss prevention specialist and fire protection consultant in the commercial insurance industry. He founded the NotJustAnotherFire.Net Web site. He is a National Fire Protection Association-certified Fire Protection Specialist and a Board of Certified Safety Professionals Certified Safety Professional. He has degrees from Purdue University, where he worked several years for the university’s agricultural safety and health program. He has served as a county-level elected official and member of his county’s E-911 communications advisory board. He operates an Indiana grain farm.