Confined Space Rescue Standby: Repairing a Water Leak Under the Skytrain
A few years ago, a Lower Mainland, BC, municipality undertook an initiative to better develop its confined space rescue capability. The first goal was to train a group of 60 workers in confined space rescue. To maximize the learning experience, class size was limited to 6 students. The second goal was to create a pool of highly trained personnel which could be temporarily utilized to provide rescue services for more difficult and hazardous confined space entries. They were referred to as “Go To” personnel. For two years this group underwent advanced exercises, assisted in selecting and standardizing equipment and coached their fellow workers during training and entries. Before this group was stood to, the municipality had to hire contractors to provide rescue services.
Who better to provide such services than internal personnel who have experience doing the work and intimately know the spaces?
Finally, the time had come to call the “Go To” personnel into action. It was identified that a leak had developed in a 30” diameter water main at 29th Ave and approximately Slocan in Vancouver. Usually, fixing a leak is as simple as digging up the line and repairing it but in this circumstance there was a significant obstacle, the Skytrain. The leak was located directly underneath the tracks so excavating was not an option.
This meant that an access point would need to be created in an adjacent park and a worker would have to crawl up to 100 feet inside the pipe to locate, inspect and repair the leak. To complicate matters the pipe was not straight. It consisted of a 90 degree bend and a 24 foot 45 degree slope that would need to be negotiated to reach the leak. Because of the characteristics of the space, the use of rope systems was a must, for both the entry as well as any potential rescue effort.
Above: The work crew, including specially trained Confined Space Rescue staff, review the plan for tackling an unusual and difficult water main leak, located under the Vancouver Skytrain.
Above: An access point for the water main, which runs under the Skytrain tracks near 29th avenue. To fix the unusual leak, an employee would have to crawl up to 100 feet inside the pipe to locate, inspect and repair the leak.
It is a regulatory requirement in our area for all confined space entries to have designated rescue standby services on site to ensure help is immediately available. Due to the nature of the space it was important to have a team of highly qualified personnel to not only assist with the entry, but also to extricate the worker in the event of an emergency. Who better to provide these services than an internally trained group?
Once on-site, the team quickly came together to set up the equipment, prepared for the entry and after the tailboard meeting, were ready to get to work. It was critical that every aspect of the planned method of rescue was discussed and, where possible, integrated into the entry procedure. Because of the diameter of the pipe, we had to consider the required orientation of an injured worker to ensure a smooth extrication. This meant that the entrant would need to enter feet first into the pipe. It would be more difficult getting to the repair site but was essential to support an external rescue. In addition, the entrant was advised to keep their elbows below their shoulders. No detail was left out to ensure and plan for a successful rescue.
As the entrant made his way into the pipe, the team practiced extricating the worker from various key points, such as at bends, inclines and longer sections. The entrant would simply pretend he was unconscious and the team would attempt to rescue him. With the entrant actually being conscious, as well as being a trained rescuer, the rescue system could be fully evaluated, inside and out. For example, it was identified when the ropes were being retrieved under tension they were sticking as a result of a tar like coating inside of the pipe. Once this was discovered the entrant exited the space and a “Tiger Tail” was used to ensure the ropes would be able to transition smoothly over any bends.
A few other gaps were identified and the team used their skills to quickly find and implement a solution so that they were prepared should an emergency occur.
In the end, the job was a great success! A welder was able to safely enter the pipe and weld a patch over the hole. This showed the organization that fluid resources can be developed internally and that a complicated task can be completed in an safe and efficient fashion. The “Go To’ team’s hard work and dedication had paid off and it showed all staff that they can rely on each other, even in the most difficult of situations.
Above: Each worker that assisted with the Confined Space Entry had a dedicated role, and followed an extensive list of safety protocols.