Developing a rescue team is simple: recruit team members, purchase equipment, and hire someone to provide training. Easy enough. The real challenge is maintaining that capability over time. People leave the team, equipment ‘disappears’ and skills degrade.
Having been involved in the development and maintenance of hundreds of rescue teams, we have learned that successful, long-lasting teams are built on a firm foundation. And firm foundations begin by asking and answering these five questions.
- What’s the potential for a rescue event at our workplace? Hopefully the rescue potential is small because basic safety measures are in place and being followed. But work forces are aging, equipment and systems may be degrading, and increased automation means fewer workers supervising ever-more complex processes. How many near misses are you experiencing? How much exposure do workers have to confined spaces, fall hazards, chemical spills, heat, and cold? Determining your rescue potential will start you on your path forward.
- Who will be the team leaders? Once you know the level of rescue capability needed, identify the program drivers. Good team leaders are those who understand the nature of your operations, can solve problems, and exhibit a passion for both safety and rescue. The team leaders must be informed and well trained by an approved curriculum provider with a history of industrial rescue training and performance.
- How large a team will we need? This can be tough to answer since it depends on many factors. Generally speaking, three to four team members should be able to handle almost all possible single-patient rescues in a typical industrial environment. Most locations will need to train at least ten team members to ensure coverage during working hours. During a major shutdown or special project that may require advanced rescue capabilities, consider hiring an outside contractor/consultant to work with alongside your team to provide added oversight and capability.
- What equipment is needed? Rescue gear is expensive and equipping a team requires careful thought and guidance. Most teams will need a basic cache of ropes, harnesses, and hardware, but special situations may require specialized equipment. Start with the basics. As the team gains experience, they will discover problems that can best be addressed with specific types of equipment.
- How much ongoing training and support is needed? In addition to the startup costs, you will need to allot time for both regular drills and refresher training. In our estimation regular drills of some type must be performed at least quarterly and formal refresher training should be provided at least every two years.
If this seems excessive, remember that the training schedule must maintain a capability that exceeds the rescue potential of the workplace. The reason to exceed and not simply match the rescue potential is justified by the fact that the real event is always worse and much more stressful than what is typically seen or imagined during training. Train high and default to the simplest path to complete the real rescue should it ever happen.
As you move down this path, remember that companies that develop a quality rescue program rarely use it. Why? Because the presence of a rescue team on a work site results in increased levels of safety. Workers have a better understanding of the risks of the workplace and rescue team members serve as de facto safety supervisors as they seek to make sure that their hard-earned skills are never used.
Bottom line? A quality safety program and a sustainable rescue team go hand-in-hand.