Many employers are mistakenly relying upon public fire departments to rescue workers from confined spaces, such as water and sewer pipes, manholes, and tunnels, according to an analysis by health researchers from the University of California. The team studied 530 U.S. worker deaths over 13 years related to confined spaces.

Fire crews need time to evaluate and control the hazards at a specific site before they enter the confined space. The study recommends that companies instead have rescue personnel stationed at the entrance of potentially dangerous confined spaces who can pull workers out more quickly in an emergency.

The findings show that employers have to take greater responsibility for putting together an effective, timely, on-site rescue program if they are sending workers into these kinds of spaces, say researchers. When something does go wrong, help from the department crews can be a long ways off.

Rescue operations have to be done within four minutes, according to California OSHA, or they almost always become body recovery operations rather than rescues.

More information on confined spaces