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The Bottom Line: Rescue Planning for Employers

As a company that offers operational and rescue services to employers around the world, we are often asked questions about the requirements for rescue and evacuation of injured or stranded workers.

As with many aspects of occupational health & safety, legislation regarding rescue and evacuation of workers has developed independently in jurisdictions around the world.  In most developed countries, employers must provide for rescue or evacuation of injured or stranded workers on the job site.  It is important to conduct a thorough review of the legal requirements in your area before doing work that places workers in hazardous environments.

A responsible company will ensure all reasonable measures to mitigate the need for rescue have been taken, and that adequate rescue resources are available to ensure a worker in need of rescue will experience the best possible outcome from the situation.  The employer who can provide this will be compliant with legislation, reduce legal and financial risk, and morally be doing the right thing.

In British Columbia, specific requirements are described in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

Do we need a rescue plan?

Emergency response requirements within the province are outlined in Part 4 – General Conditions of the OHS Regulations.  Section 4.13 Risk Assessment states that the employer must conduct a risk assessment in any workplace where a need to rescue or evacuate workers may arise.  If the risk assessment shows this need, then a rescue plan must be developed for the site.

Do we need a rescue team on site?

This depends on what work is being done and the results of the risk assessment.  For work activities such as work at heights or in confined spaces that have been deemed high risk, having the rescue team on site will ensure prompt rescue of your workers should an incident occur.

Do I have to contract professionals or can I train my own workers if I need rescue personnel on site?

Either method is acceptable in British Columbia and there are advantages and disadvantages to both options.

For employers that routinely operate in high-risk environments such as work at heights or in confined spaces, training workers to conduct rescue operations may be the least expensive option.  For employers that conduct high risk operations on a less frequent basis, the costs of equipping and training a internal rescue team will generally be higher than contracting the work and/ or rescue coverage to professional teams.

If you would like assistance with a cost benefit analysis please contact us as Global Rope Access, we provide comprehensive information putting your needs first.

If you decide to hire an external team to provide rescue coverage on your site, look for those that offer more than just rescue services.  Companies that offer stand by rescue services staffed solely by technicians, such as  full time firefighters, are unlikely to be able to offer the depth of knowledge and value that comes from extensive work experience.  Contracting a company that can conduct the work while also providing rescue coverage reduces costs.  Workers trained in rope access techniques offer full rescue coverage that exceeds regulatory requirements, but also have the required industrial work experience to complete tasks, or assist your operations,  at height or in confined spaces.

Can’t I just call the fire department?

No.  Simply listing 911 on your emergency response plan is not considered an adequate response to high-risk activities in the workplace.  A more detailed analysis of each situation is required before selecting the local fire department as your rescue team.  Depending on the results of the risk assessment for the project or task, certain fire departments may be able to provide rescue coverage to projects in British Columbia.

After the risk assessment is completed, employers in specific industries can utilize the Technical High Angle Rope Rescue Program (THARRP) to have approved fire departments provide rescue coverage for work at high angles.  This program is administered through the BC Construction Safety Association and additional details on the THARR Program can be found on their website here.   Specific criteria must be met before a fire department can offer rescue services for your project and not all fire departments are part of this program.

Confined space work is a bit more complicated.  Depending on the results of the risk assessment, the spaces may be deemed low hazard, medium hazard or high hazard.  Provision is made in the OHS Regulation (9.37 Provision of Rescue Services)  for signed agreements between employers and a fire department to provide rescue services; however high hazard confined spaces require immediate response that a fire department is typically unable to provide.

The Bottom Line?

Rescue coverage in the workplace is a complicated topic that is difficult to sum up in a brief blog post.  Some key points to consider:

  • Utilize a thorough risk assessment process when trying to determine what is an appropriate response to a given situation.

  • Select a person with appropriate knowledge and experience to complete the risk assessment.

  • Fire departments may provide rescue coverage in specific applications but cannot be considered the solution for all work sites.

Hiring professional rope access rescue technicians  for more complex tasks can often be the most cost effective approach to work at height or in confined spaces.

GRA is frequently hired by companies in British Columbia and around the world to help them with the entire process; from the initial risk assessment to deploying rescue and operations personnel in the field.  Initial consultation is free; contact us at 778-266-7673 for more information.