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So You’re the Confined Space Hole Watch…Now What?

Friday, September 17, 2021
Safe Entry Team graphic 2018

First of all, don’t let the jargon “hole watch” fool you. The attendant’s role is key to the safety of the entry operation, and especially for the entrants inside the space. Lives are literally on the line – including the attendant’s if a bad decision is made to enter the space.

As you can see from the graphic, the hole watch (attendant) is the “eyes and ears of safety” and a crucial part of the Safe Entry Team. This position is critical to watching out for the entrants and recognizing the need for calling emergency services – and, of course, the quicker the better. One more reason the position of hole watch cannot be taken lightly.

It is also the responsibility of the employer or entry supervisor to make sure that the attendant receives adequate training prior to the entry. The attendant needs to be capable of monitoring the entrants and reacting properly in an emergency. This may include the operation of retrieval systems should evacuation become necessary.


If there are any changes to the entry operations, the attendant may require additional training depending on the hazards. Re-training is also required if there are any deviations from the permit space procedures – or if the employer feels the attendant is inadequately prepared.

Hole Watch is critical for entrant safety and knowing when to call emergency services–and, of course, the quicker the better.

As a reminder, employers or entry supervisors are required to…

  • Provide the support that attendants need to fulfill their role.
  • Provide informational resources concerning the hazards or potential hazards.
  • Provide the necessary equipment and training as required.
  • Determine if the attendant will be authorized to perform non-entry rescue (retrieval) and clearly communicate this to the attendant.

“Do’s and Don’ts” for the Confined Space Hole Watch

Diligence is critical for the hole watch or attendant. It’s a very important position. Pay attention and know your job! Here are a few “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to remember if you’re assigned the task of hole watch.

"Do's" for the Confined Space Attendant:

  • Remain alert – lives are on the line.
  • Take the initiative to learn everything you need to know as well as how to operate any equipment as required.
  • Review the permit and understand the prohibited conditions.
  • Know the hazards (or potential hazards) of the entry.
  • Seek resources for more information (SDS, LOTO schedules, baseline assessments, etc.)
  • Learn the mode of entry.
  • Know the signs, symptoms and behavioral effects of exposure.
  • Know the consequences of exposure.
  • Keep track of entrants – know who is inside the space at all times. Use a tracking system (such as a roster) when there are multiple entrants. Do not rely on memory alone!
  • Inform entry supervisor and entrants if unauthorized persons have entered the space.
  • Use appropriate PPE for the area and ensure that basic needs are met (water, shade, etc.)
  • Learn the proper operation of any required equipment including air monitoring, communications, non-entry rescue, etc.
  • Conduct and log periodic air monitoring, as required. Note: Continuous air monitoring may be required based on Construction 1926 Subpart AA.
  • Make sure that you have a reliable means to communicate with the entrants – and test it!
  • Perform non-entry rescue (retrieval) as needed and if authorized to do so.
  • Inspect retrieval equipment pre-entry and practice using it – don’t wait until there is an emergency to try and figure it out.
  • Know how to contact rescue services (in advance) should the need arise.
  • Summon the rescue service as soon as you determine that entrants may need assistance.

“Don’ts” for the Confined Space Attendant:

  • Don’t accept the assignment as Hole Watch until you have been briefed on all planned activities both inside and outside the space.
  • Don’t take your responsibilities lightly.
  • Don’t leave the area outside the space unless relieved by another attendant.
  • Don’t perform any duties that would distract or interfere with attendant duties.
  • Don’t allow unauthorized persons to approach or enter the permit space – inform the entry supervisor as needed.
  • Don’t wait until a suspected prohibited condition becomes obvious or worsens prior to ordering the entrants to evacuate the space. It’s better to err on the safe side vs. not evacuating the entrants soon enough!
  • Don’t forget to keep a watch for hazards outside the space – such as unexpected airflows; heavy lifts in the area; and use of chemicals (or spills).
  • Don’t enter the space to investigate, and don’t attempt an entry rescue unless you are authorized, trained and equipped to do so. Even then, you must first be relieved by another qualified attendant.
  • Don’t allow the entry supervisor to close out a permit until 100% of entrants are accounted for and out of the space!

Hole Watch: A Crucial Connection

Once again, we can’t overemphasize the importance of the attendant or hole watch. Don’t take this position lightly. These individuals are the first line of protection for those inside the space. When selecting an attendant, make sure they are capable of handling the responsibilities of the job. They should be trained and prepared to act in an emergency. The timeliness of their response is crucial to the safety of the entrants. Failure to properly perform these duties has led to multiple fatalities – both for the entrants and the attendants themselves.

Roco Rescue CS Attendant Requirements

Additional Resources



Roco Receives Platinum Safety Award

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

PlatinumMedal2021Lexington, MA: ConstructSecure, Inc., a cloud-based mobile platform that empowers clients to make smarter risk management decisions, has announced the recipients of its prestigious safety awards. Roco Rescue Inc. has received the Platinum Safety Award. This award is presented to companies that register a safety score 95% or greater in the Safety Assessment Program administered by ConstructSecure.

“Platinum status is not easily achieved. Roco Rescue Inc. has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to implementing safety management systems resulting in exceptionally low incident rates,” states Garrett Burke, CEO of ConstructSecure.

(View Official Press Release: View PDF)

The Safety Assessment Program reviewed Roco Rescue's historic safety performance as well as our safety management program and systems. As an OSHA VPP Star worksite, Roco Rescue incorporates safety into everything we do.

Roco Rescue VPP Elements

Additional Resources



Confined Space Fatalities…an updated look at the numbers

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Ten years ago we published a review of the statistics from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in confined spaces. How have the stats changed over the years?

We were surprised to find that confined space fatalities have increased in recent years.

Annual CS Falalities_2011-18The 2011 to 2018 average was 128 deaths per year, up from 96 in 2005-2009, and the trend was a consistent increase from 2013 through 2017. Only one state (Rhode Island) experienced no confined space fatalities during this period. This is yet another notable increase, as only 28 states recorded fatalities in 2005-2009.

CS Fatalities by Activity_2011-18The construction industry again took the lead for most fatalities, but it’s important to note that more fatalities occurred during repairs and maintenance than during construction or dismantling (226 vs 193).

In a repeat from our prior analysis, atmospheric hazards were not the biggest cause of fatalities. It was again the Physical Hazards that topped the chart, with “Contact with Objects and Equipment” being the largest set of causes.

CS Fatalities by Event_2011-18This Physical Hazards area includes:

  • Struck by = 106
    • 61 of those were falling objects
  • Caught in = 82
  • Collapses = 294
    • 168 of those were Trench/Excavation fatalities, 135 being in the private construction industry

In comparison, there were 165 deaths from inhalation of a harmful substance and/or oxygen deficiency (excluding drownings) and another 165 deaths from falls. This means that these three hazards account for almost half of the 1,030 deaths during this 8-year period.

Trench Collapses, Atmospheric Hazards, and Falls account for half of all Confined Space* related fatalities from 2011-2018.

These numbers serve to remind us of how important safety precautions and training are when working around confined spaces. As rescuers, we routinely focus on atmospheric hazards. However, these statistics show we must be aware of the many physical hazards that confined spaces so often include.

*Note that CFOI’s definition of a confined space may differ from the OSHA definition.

Data and images are excerpts from Roco Rescue’s presentation at the VPPPA 2021 Safety+ National Symposium by Chris Carlsen, Director of Training and Tim Robson, Chief Instructor and Regional CSRT Manager. Download the presentation’s slide deck


Additional Resources



Small-town Department, Big-time Hazards

Monday, August 23, 2021

Many small-town fire departments often have their share of big-time hazards, but perhaps none fits that bill like the Westlake Fire Department in Southwest Louisiana. This department, located on the I-10 industrial corridor, is surrounded by some of the largest petrochemical plants in the nation, and it’s growing daily. And, while maybe small in number, this department must be ready for some of the most diverse hazards possible – many with huge implications for their community.

House Fire by WFD
Westlake firefighters respond to a house fire in Myrtle Springs (photo courtesy WFD)

Winner of Roco's LFCA Training Course Giveaway

With that said, we are extremely proud to have awarded the Westlake Fire Department with FREE Roco training as the winner of our Urban/Industrial Rescue Essentials™ Course Giveaway at the Louisiana Fire Chiefs Association (LFCA) annual conference. This course giveaway affords us the opportunity to offer life-saving training while showing our support for all of the hard work that first responders do every day to serve their communities.

We recently sat down with Westlake Fire Department’s Assistant Fire Chief, Jimmy Boyette, to learn a little more about their operation, what drives them and how Roco’s confined space and high angle rescue training can benefit them. Check out our conversation below.

Roco: First, tell us more about your department…what is the makeup of your organization and what sort of emergencies are you responsible for covering?

Westlake FD: Westlake Fire is made up of one Fire Chief, two Assistant Fire Chiefs, three Shift Captains, three Shift Lieutenants, and (when fully staffed) six Firefighters. We are also currently working with the city and our Fire Board to secure more staff members to better assist our rapidly growing area. We respond to the City of Westlake and the surrounding areas (Ward 4, Fire District 3) in Calcasieu Parish. We run fire, rescue, medical, and HAZMAT emergencies in our extremely industrial area.

Roco: Currently, how often does your department conduct training?

Westlake FD: We train three days a month at the Calcasieu training center. We try to stick with a theme or concentration, such as car extraction, medical help, etc. We encourage anyone who shows interest to attend, although it’s hard when there are only seven spots and all 15 of our members want to go!

Roco: What are some of the specific hazards that your department faces and what technical rescue incidents could they pose?

Westlake FD: Our city is surrounded by industry, which presents many potential confined space and high angle scenarios for our department. The multi-billion-dollar Sasol plant expansion took place, essentially, in our backyards – and that is just one of the plants that is local to our area. In our response area also lies the Isle of Capri Casino high-rise construction project along with numerous apartment complexes with more on the way. Then, we have the I-10 Calcasieu River bridge, which poses a continuous hazard for the thousands of travelers on I-10 each day. Add in a passenger rail train, and the fact that we are surrounded on three sides by water – all come with their own unique opportunities for varying types of rescue disciplines.

Roco: Because you are located in such a highly industrialized area, do you have a mutual aid agreement with other agencies? How does that work?

Westlake FD: We are a part of the Southwest LA Mutual Aid Association, which is a large agreement between municipalities and industries to help provide HAZMAT and supplies outside of normal capabilities when needed. Any entity of the association can call upon another member for resources in time of a major disaster or event. When manpower or resources are lacking, members can step in and help each other. The organization meets monthly to keep a pulse on what members and local businesses are doing and how we may be able to partner together.

Roco: Ideally, how many department personnel would you like to be trained in confined space and high angle rescue? Why do your members join the rescue team?

Westlake FD: Because we are a small department, we would like to see everyone rescue trained, but so many still need the right training in order for that to happen. Those who serve on the rescue team generally have a passion for going above and beyond to serve the community. Many of them have generational ties to first responders, and a number of our team members previously served in the military. A common theme we see is that our members want to serve their community after serving their country.

“A common theme we see is that our members want to serve their community after serving their country.”

Roco: What made you seek this training grant from Roco Rescue?

Westlake FD: Our city is in the process of recovering from not only the global pandemic taking an economic toll on nearly all sources of funding (like everyone else), but also a near-direct hit from two back-to-back hurricanes; a once-in-a-generation freeze; and, more recently, the floods that impacted Southwest Louisiana. All of this coming during an already difficult financial recovery due to mismanagement by a previous administration that almost left the city bankrupt. As a result, we are constantly searching to find and take advantage of all sources of free training. For example, we currently use the Lake Charles Fire Academy as an initial training for new employees. The majority of our members have a basic understanding of confined space/rope rescue techniques, but we believe having some (if not all of them) partake in more advanced training will help us flatten the learning curve. We also have a Captain and Assistant Chief who are previous graduates of Roco Rescue – and they have had nothing but great things to say about the level of training and experience of instructors at Roco; their reputation is unmatched.

“Our department leaders have had nothing but great things to say about the level of training and experience of instructors at Roco; their reputation is unmatched.”

Roco: Final question, what makes your team work well together?

Westlake Fire DepartmentWestlake FD: Being small, everyone knows everyone. We fully encompass a total family atmosphere – we don’t just know each other, but we also know each other’s families. Westlake has a big-town feel but it is really a small-town attitude.

“We really encompass a total family atmosphere – we don’t just know each other, but we also know each other’s families.”

Roco applauds the hard work and dedication that every member of the Westlake Fire Department continues to show their community, and we are honored to train alongside this team. They recognized a need for more in-depth training and refused to back down until a solution was found. Assistant Fire Chief Jimmy Boyette stated, “We are in the heart of the industrial area of Lake Charles, which means a special operations division within our department is an absolute must.”

Is OSHA VPP a Good Fit for Your Company?

Thursday, August 12, 2021

VPP-logoThe short answer…. of course, it is! Whether you are a large company or a small company (like ours), we have experienced that VPP can be a “win-win-win” for all who participate. The collaboration between employers, employees, and OSHA is one of the most refreshing aspects of VPP participation.

By bringing those three groups together to determine any areas that can enhance worker safety, and do so with a team spirit, is not only effective but also goes a very long way in building a trusting rapport.

It’s important to note that OSHA VPP is a voluntary program, and that is the first hint that the entire process is based on a triad of cooperation and support. Therefore, with the VPP process, the first thing you need to remember is that OSHA is here to help you. No, really…in our VPP experience, there has been one example after another of OSHA representatives being very helpful and supportive throughout the process. Ultimately, this has created a safer workplace and enhanced the safety culture of our company. More on that in a bit.

No doubt, there’s a lot of upfront effort in preparing for your first onsite VPP audit. OSHA realizes that the initial onsite audit and the self-evaluation package are not easy or quick “blink-of-the-eye” efforts. However, OSHA makes it less daunting by helping to arrange for a “mentor VPP company” to assist new applicant companies. These VPP volunteers act as mentors throughout the preparation process.

Roco Rescue VPP Elements

For starters, any company seeking entry into the VPP program must have a very safe OSHA-compliant workplace with all the programs expected of VPP in place. The applicant must be able to demonstrate compliance with the four main VPP Elements and all the sub-elements, which are quite extensive. In addition, continuous safety improvement is a never-ending focus with VPP.Download the Roco Rescue Safety Improvement Cycle Poster

To address all VPP elements and sub-elements takes a fair amount of effort and understanding of how best to put into words a narrative description of your safety and health programs. Then, you must be able to tie it to the documentation that backs it up. There is a high potential for a shortfall or disconnect between what OSHA is looking for and what you think they are looking for, and that happened to us on our first audit. It wasn’t a major factor, but it was enough to cause the audit team to call a time out on the process and give us some appropriate guidance and time to revise that particular sub-element to meet the requirements of the program. It was more a matter of semantics than execution, but the point is, the OSHA team cooperated with, and supported us. Ultimately, we were awarded our VPP Star status at the conclusion of that audit.

Earlier I referred to a triad of cooperation and support, but all I have mentioned so far is OSHA and the employer. So, who makes up the third point of the triad? That would be the employees. The four elements of VPP are very clear – not only is management leadership a very big part of the program, but as importantly, so is employee involvement – the third point of the triad!

We’ve found that one of the greatest benefits of participating in the VPP program is how it gets all the employees involved. For a safety culture to evolve in a workplace, it is an absolute must that the employees have a stake in their own safety and the safety of others around them. To have any feeling of ownership, or having a stake in the success of the program, employees must not only feel that their input matters, but the program must include employee input not just as a mindset, but that it is demonstrable through documentation.

One of the most beneficial outcomes of employee involvement is the development of programs that don’t just sound good on paper, but actually work in application.

By asking employees for their ideas on how best to make their area not only meet the requirements of the program, but to make it a usable, and most importantly an effective tool or strategy – and who better to hear this from than the person(s) that will be implementing the tool? By allowing the employees to come up with solutions for providing for their own safety in concert with management support and leadership, we are finding that the safety culture, as well as the overall safety of the workplace, has been greatly enhanced.

So how does participation in the VPP program help you as a company? Out of all the programs, growth, changes, new classes, equipment, facility additions and other significant events that I have witnessed over the past 20+ years with Roco Rescue, the teamwork and communication between employees and management was never as dynamic as it has been due to our participation in VPP.

The VPP flag flying at the Roco Rescue Training Center.
The VPP flag proudly displayed at the Roco Rescue Training Center adds emphasis to our company motto, “There’s a safe way and a SAFER way!”

Roco has always placed safety first and our motto, “There’s a Safe Way, and a Safer Way!” has always rung true in our day-to-day business. But even with such a strong record of safety before VPP, it is clear that our workplace safety has gotten much stronger and that is due primarily to our work with OSHA VPP. The program has provided the tool for our management team; and, most importantly, our employees to develop new and safer practices and programs.

I mentioned VPP being a win-win-win situation earlier. I think it is clear how the employer and employees benefit from participation in VPP, but one of the benefits to OSHA is witnessing innovative safety practices and how those practices result in measurable safety benefits. To illustrate this, I want to share a story from one of the onsite VPP evaluations I assisted with as an SGE.

During the visit, the OSHA evaluation team learned of a monitoring program for companies that use forklifts and lift trucks as part of their daily activities. This monitoring system consisted of hardware and software that monitors vehicle speed, any impacts in a selectable value or G force, maintenance and inspection status, and other criteria. The company had seen a 90% reduction in the costs associated with forklift and lift truck maintenance and materiel damage associated with these types of operations. This reduction does not include any costs that would be a result of injury or fatality. The overall reduction in over-speed and impact incidents should directly correlate with any injury or fatality potential. This is an example of an OSHA benefit in collecting best-known practices (BKM) and sharing that BKM with other companies.

Now all this being said, it is by no means a given that simply applying for OSHA VPP participation and undergoing an onsite evaluation will result in your company receiving recognition in any of the three VPP programs – Star, Merit, or Demonstration. But remember, VPP is a cooperative effort, and this means that any shortfalls in your safety program or performance will be clearly identified.

Written evaluation reports will be given that provide a great roadmap to help you not only make corrections to achieve VPP recognition, but most importantly to provide a safer, healthier, and ultimately a more profitable workplace.

So, is the OSHA VPP program a good fit for your company? From our experience, we feel very strongly that it is a good fit for any company. In addition, there are many more benefits to participation in VPP than what we covered in this article including preferred consideration by clients who also value a safety focus. However, for Roco, the most important has been the enhanced safety throughout our operations and the companywide buy-in from our employees and support from management.


What is VPP?

The OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) promotes effective worksite-based safety and health. In the VPP, management, labor, and OSHA establish cooperative relationships at workplaces that have implemented a comprehensive safety and health management system. Approval into VPP is OSHA’s official recognition of the outstanding efforts of employers and employees who have achieved exemplary occupational safety and health.

How Has VPP Improved Worker Safety & Health?

Statistical evidence for VPP’s success is impressive. The average VPP worksite has a Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) case rate of 52% below the average for its industry. These sites typically do not start out with such low rates. Reductions in injuries and illnesses begin when the site commits to the VPP approach to safety and health management and the challenging VPP application process.

How Does VPP Benefit Employers?

Fewer injuries and illnesses mean greater profits as workers’ compensation premiums and other costs plummet. Entire industries benefit as VPP sites evolve into models of excellence and influence practices industry-wide.

How Can I Get More Information?

For more information, visit https://www.osha.gov/vpp or download Roco's Continuous Safety Improvement Cycle poster with details about each of the four elements of VPP.

About the Author: Pat Furr has recently retired from Roco and is currently “living the dream” in New Hampshire. He was a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator, and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco for many years. As a chief instructor, he taught a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he was involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, Pat served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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