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Extrication of casualties from confined spaces

Hazard Knowledge

The hazards in a confined space arise through a combination of the confined nature of the workplace and the possible presence of substances or conditions that could increase the risk to the health and safety of personnel. Fire and rescue services should consider the possibility that a hazard could be introduced to a confined space during an incident, for example, water.


The Confined Space Regulations 1997 define a confined space as:

"any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk.”

A 'specified risk' is further defined as a risk of the:

  • Serious injury to any person at work arising from a fire or explosion
  • Loss of consciousness of any person at work arising from an increase in body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness or asphyxiation of any person at work, arising from gas, fume, vapour or lack of oxygen
  • Drowning of any person at work arising from an increase in the level of liquid
  • Asphyxiation of any person at work arising from a free flowing solid, or the inability to reach a respirable environment due to the entrapment by a free flowing solid

Under the regulations, a confined space has two defining features:

  • It is a space which is substantially (but not always entirely) enclosed
  • There is a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury to personnel from hazardous substances or conditions in the space

Incidents that fire and rescue services may attend, which can be defined as confined spaces, may include:

Before committing personnel into any hazard area, incident commanders should take account of the actual information about the incident that is available, to make operational decisions in what are recognised as sometimes dangerous, fast-moving and emotionally charged environments.

A thorough safety brief should be carried out before personnel are deployed in the hazard zone. Areas that the incident commander will have to consider include:

Consideration should be given to the involvement of other emergency services such as USAR teams, rope rescue teams or appropriate resources and casualty care. Refer to the Casualty care section for more information.