Training Rescue Teams: What Standards Apply?

If you are not a rescue expert, the process of moving an injured person from a hazardous location to a place of safety may seem hopelessly complex. And like any other complex process one would assume that various organizations who specialize in technical rescue would issue standards to guide us in training rescue teams. These are some of the issues we'll be covering in our upcoming Confined Space Rescue Team Leader classes to be held this fall in Washington and Arizona.

Patient being lowered off of a tower using a SKED stretcher.

Safely lowering a patient requires training the rescue team to package the patient, rig the lowering and fall protection systems, and communicate effectively. No single standard addresses all these needs.

So the question becomes: When you are training rescue teams, what standards apply?

To answer this, let's look at each standard in turn.

  • OSHA and MSHA Regulations: These rules generally specify the need for employers to provide emergency rescue capabilities if employees are conducting specific job activities (e.g., using fall arrest equipment or working in permit-required confined spaces). But OSHA rules are usually performance standards, meaning they will tell you what needs to happen, but won't tell you how to make it happen. Given the wide variety of industrial environments it would be silly for OSHA to try to specify how to actually perform a rescue. So we need to look elsewhere.
  • ANSI Standards: It seems as though there are ANSI standards covering just about every aspect of safety. What about rescue? The ANSI Z359 family of standards does reference anchor strengths for rescue anchors with noncertified anchors needing 3,000 pounds of strength and certified anchors needing a strength of five times the applied load (the relevance of these requirements is a subject of another blog). Z359.4 addresses the design and testing of assisted- and self-rescue systems such as evacuation harnesses, retractable lifelines with a rescue winch, and self-descent devices. The ANSI Z490.1 Standard (Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health, and Environmental Training) talks about the design and delivery of this type of training, but offers no specificity on how to train industrial rescuers or what topics they need to be trained on.
  • NFPA Standards: Promulgated by the National Fire Protection Association the NFPA code is intended for fire departments and does provide some useful guidance for industrial teams. NFPA 1983 specifies minimum requirements for the design, performance, testing, and certification of life safety rope and system components used for rescue, fire fighting, or other emergency operations. NFPA 1670 (Standard on Operations & Training for Technical Rescue Incidents) identifies and establishes levels of functional capability for conducting operations safety and effectively. Levels of a team's rescue capability are divided into “Awareness” (can assist with a rescue), “Operations” (can perfrom a simple rescue) and “Technician” (can perfrom a complex rescue in an IDLH environment), and these terms are often used when describing industrial teams. Almost all of our clients can fulfill their responsibilities with an operations-level team. The Incident Command System (ICS) is used by all fire departments and industrial teams need to be able to use it when working with off-site responders.

So these standards sort of address training rescue teams, but are there others which are more pertinent? The short answer is yes.

  • Equipment Manfacturers: Every item of rescue equipment has operating limits and specific do's and don'ts that cover its use. Inspection and retirement criteria are also specified. Any training course that neglects conveying this information is placing the team at risk. Given that rescue equipment is often evolving and improving, instructors need to keep up with changing requirements and capabilities.
  • Laws of Physics: These 'standards' govern everything that we do to move a patient. Shock loads, static loads, angles of attachment, mechanical advantage, friction, and similar issues must be understood if we are going to design and deploy rope systems.
  • Laws of Learning: Technical rescue requires a high degree of motor skills, so students must be given ample opprtunities to learn and demonstrate these skills under the watchful eyes of a qualified instructor. Principles of adult learning, therefore, must be reflected in every aspect of the training program.

So did we answer the question: Which standard should we train to when we are training rescue teams?

In some ways the answer is: All of them, at least the relevant portions. A better answer would be to ignore the question altogether and start the process by looking at the type of activities you expect your rescue team to perform. Once you generate a pre-incident plan (pre-plan) the process of identifying the equipment and skills needed should be fairly simple. Once you have done that, you can then refer to the appropriate standard (or just call us at 800-551-8763 and we can point you in the right direction).

Jim Johnson September 27, 2016

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