How to Perform CPR in Confined Spaces: A Comprehensive Guide

Performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation in confined spaces presents unique challenges that require specialized techniques and considerations. Whether you're a professional rescuer or a trained bystander, understanding how to effectively perform CPR in these situations is crucial. This guide will provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate confined spaces and administer CPR safely and efficiently.


Understanding the Challenges of Confined Space

Confined spaces are not meant for continuous occupancy but are large enough for entry and task performance. Examples include storage tanks, underground vaults, silos, manholes, tunnels, and pipelines. Limited entry and exit points in these areas complicate rescue operations and emergency procedures.

These spaces pose various hazards, such as low oxygen levels, toxic gases, engulfment risks, and limited visibility. Such conditions endanger both the victim and the rescuer, highlighting the need to identify and mitigate these risks before attempting CPR


Importance of Situational Awareness

Situational awareness means continuously being aware of the environment and potential hazards. In confined spaces, this involves understanding the layout, knowing the location of exits, and monitoring changes in conditions, such as gas levels or structural stability. This awareness is crucial for ensuring the safety of both the rescuer and the victim.

Effective situational awareness includes using tools like gas detectors, communication devices, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Additionally, regular safety drills and training programs improves situational awareness, preparing rescuers for real-life scenarios.


  • In a 2019 airplane medical emergency, CPR and an onboard AED were instrumental in saving a passenger's life despite the challenges of the confined cabin space.
  • Similarly, at a 2016 construction site incident in the United States, prompt CPR and AED use in a confined underground tunnel stabilized a worker suffering from cardiac arrest, leading to a successful recovery.

These cases highlight how effective CPR techniques and immediate access to rescue equipment significantly impact outcomes in confined environments, emphasizing the importance of preparedness and quick response in emergencies.


How to Prepare for CPR in Confined Spaces?

Before performing the resuscitation guidelines, assess the environment for hazards, ensure personal safety, and gather the necessary equipment.

  • Assessing the Environment: Check for structural stability, harmful gases, and any other dangers that compromises safety. Evaluate space constraints to determine the best positioning for performing CPR.
  • Ensuring Personal Safety: Personal safety should always be a priority. Wear appropriate protective equipment, such as helmets, gloves, and respiratory protection if necessary. Establish a safe zone where you perform CPR without additional risks.
  • Gathering Necessary Equipment: Having the right equipment is vital. Ensure you have portable Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs), first aid kits, and communication devices. These tools improves the chances of a successful resuscitation in confined spaces.


How to Perform CPR in Confined Spaces?

Here's a Step-by-Step Guide to Performing CPR in confined spaces:

  1. Assess the Victim’s Condition: Check the victim for responsiveness by tapping their shoulder and shouting; if there is no response and the victim is not breathing or only gasping, begin CPR immediately.
  2. Call for Help: Contact emergency services immediately. If not alone, instruct someone to call for help and gather necessary equipment; if alone, use a mobile phone to call for help before starting CPR.
  3. Provide Chest Compressions: Place your hands in the center of the victim's chest, press down hard and fast (at least 2 inches deep) at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute, allowing the chest to recoil fully between compressions.
  4. Deliver Rescue Breaths: After 30 compressions, give 2 rescue breaths by tilting the victim's head back, lifting their chin, pinching their nose shut, and breathing into their mouth, ensuring the chest rises; continue with cycles of 30 compressions and 2 breaths.
  5. Use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED): If available, turn on the AED, follow the prompts, attach the pads to the victim's bare chest as indicated, and ensure no one is touching the victim while the AED analyzes the heart rhythm and delivers a shock if advised.

Blood Pressure Category
Systolic (Upper)
Diastolic (Lower)
Health Risks
Less than 120 mm Hg
and Less than 80 mm Hg
Low risk of heart disease or stroke
Maintain healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, no smoking)
120-129 mm Hg
and Less than 80 mm Hg
Doubled risk of cardiovascular complications
Make lifestyle changes (lose weight if overweight, increase physical activity, limit alcohol)
Hypertension Stage 1
130-139 mm Hg
or 80-89 mm Hg
Increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease
Lifestyle changes and potentially medication under doctor's guidance
Hypertension Stage 2
140 mm Hg or Higher
or 90 mm Hg or Higher
High risk; can lead to heart failure, vision loss, dementia
Medication required in addition to lifestyle changes as recommended by doctor
Hypertensive Crisis
Higher than 180 mm Hg
nd/or Higher than 120 mm Hg
Immediate danger of life-threatening complications
Seek emergency medical care immediately
Cardiac Arrest
Heart Attack
Sudden loss of heart function, leading to collapse
Blockage in a coronary artery, affecting blood flow to the heart muscle
Interruption of blood flow to the brain, leading to brain damage
Main Cause
Electrical malfunction of the heart
Blockage in coronary arteries
Blockage or rupture of blood vessels in the brain
Circulation Affected
Entire body
Heart muscle
Brain tissue
105Sudden collapse, unconsciousness, no pulse
Chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath
Sudden numbness or weakness, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech/73
Emergency Response
Immediate CPR and defibrillation
Activate emergency medical services, chew aspirin
Activate emergency medical services, FAST assessment (Face, Arms, Speech, Time)
CPR, defibrillation
Thrombolytic therapy, angioplasty, stenting
Thrombolytic therapy, clot retrieval,
Long-term Management
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), medication management
Medication management, lifestyle changes, cardiac rehabilitation
Medication, rehabilitation, lifestyle changes
Dependent on prompt CPR and defibrillation, underlying health conditions
Dependent on extent of heart muscle damage, effectiveness of intervention
Dependent on severity of brain damage, rehabilitation progress
Risk Factors
Previous heart conditions, arrhythmias, electrolyte imbalances
Atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, hypertension, smoking, diabetes
Hypertension, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation

1. Assessing the Victim’s Condition

Check the victim for responsiveness by tapping their shoulder and shouting. If the victim does not respond, immediately check for breathing and a pulse. To do this:

  • Place your ear near the victim's mouth and nose to listen for breathing while watching their chest for any movement.
  • Simultaneously, feel for a pulse on the neck (carotid artery) or wrist (radial artery).
  • If the victim is not breathing or is only gasping, it is a sign of cardiac arrest, and you should begin CPR immediately.

Remember, quick assessment and action are crucial to improve the chances of survival.

2. Calling for Help

As soon as you determine that the victim needs CPR, contact emergency services immediately. If you are not alone, instruct someone nearby to call for help and gather necessary equipment, such as an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and a first aid kit.

If you are alone, use a mobile phone to call for help before starting CPR. Providing the dispatcher with detailed information about your location and the victim's condition can expedite the arrival of emergency responders.

3. Providing Chest Compressions

To provide effective chest compressions, do the following steps:

For Adults

  • Kneel beside the victim and place the heel of one hand in the center of the chest, on the lower half of the breastbone (sternum).
  • Place your other hand on top of the first, interlocking your fingers.
  • Position your shoulders directly over your hands and keep your arms straight.
  • Press down hard and fast, compressing the chest at least 2-2.4 inches (5-6 cm) deep at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.
  • Allow the chest to fully recoil between compressions to ensure adequate blood flow.


For Children (1 year to puberty)

  • Kneel beside the child and place the heel of one hand in the center of the chest, on the lower half of the breastbone.
  • Use one hand for compressions (if the child is small, use both hands similar to adult CPR).
  • Position your shoulders directly over your hand and keep your arm straight.
  • Press down hard and fast, compressing the chest about 2 inches (5 cm) deep at 100-120 compressions per minute.
  • Allow the chest to recoil fully between compressions.


For Infants (under 1 year)

  • Place the infant on a firm, flat surface.
  • Use two fingers (index and middle) to compress the chest, below the nipple line.
  • Press down hard and fast, compressing the chest about 1.5 inches (4 cm) deep at 100-120 compressions per minute.
  • Allow the chest to recoil fully between compressions to ensure adequate blood flow.


High-quality compressions are critical to maintain circulation to the brain and vital organs.

4. Delivering Rescue Breaths

After 30 compressions, give 2 rescue breaths.

  • Open the victim's airway by tilting their head back slightly and lifting their chin.
  • For adults and children, pinch the victim's nose shut, take a normal breath, and create a seal over their mouth with yours.
  • For infants, cover both the infant's mouth and nose with your mouth.
  • Blow into the victim’s mouth for about one second, ensuring the chest rises. If the chest does not rise, re-tilt the head and try again.
  • Give a second breath.
  • Continue with cycles of 30 compressions and 2 breaths.

5. Using an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

If an AED is available, turn it on and follow the audio and visual prompts. Attach the electrode pads to the victim's bare chest as indicated by the diagrams on the pads (one pad on the upper right side of the chest and the other on the lower left side). Ensure that no one is touching the victim while the AED analyzes the heart rhythm.

If a shock is advised, the AED will instruct you to press the shock button. After delivering the shock, or if no shock is advised, immediately resume CPR starting with chest compressions. Continue to follow the AED prompts until emergency responders arrive or the victim shows signs of life. The AED is a critical tool in restoring a normal heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest.

Adapting CPR Techniques

In confined spaces, it's crucial to adapt your CPR techniques to fit the environment while maintaining effective compressions and breaths.

Modifying Body Positioning

In confined spaces like small rooms or narrow corridors, adjust your positioning for effective CPR. Kneeling beside or straddling the victim provides better leverage and stability. Use walls, floors, or other supports to maintain a secure position while performing compressions, ensuring sufficient force without compromising balance or safety.

Additionally, consider the use of ergonomic tools designed to assist with CPR in confined spaces, such as compression stools or automated CPR devices, which can help maintain effective compressions over prolonged periods. Training in these techniques and tools enhances your ability to perform CPR in various confined space scenarios.


Techniques for Limited Mobility

If space is extremely limited, traditional two-handed compressions is impractical. In such cases, one-handed compressions using the heel of your hand is effective. Position yourself over the victim and use your knees or other stable surfaces for support. Adjust your technique to maintain a consistent compression rate and depth, ensuring adequate blood circulation despite spatial constraints.


Ensuring Effective Compressions and Breaths

Maintain a consistent compression rate and depth according to the victim’s age and size. Adapt your technique to accommodate the confined environment while prioritizing the quality of compressions and breaths. Effective CPR relies on continuous and well-executed compressions to sustain vital blood flow and oxygenation to the brain and other organs. Regular practice and adaptation to various scenarios enhance your readiness to respond effectively in confined spaces.

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Blood Pressure Chart by Age

Age Group
Min Systolic/Diastolic
Normal Range
Max Systolic/Diastolic
1-12 months
Consult pediatrician if outside normal range. Cuff sizing is critical.
1-5 years
High BP in children may indicate underlying condition. Lifestyle factors.
6-13 years
Obesity, family history increase risk. Promote healthy habits early.
14-19 years
Adolescent rise normal. Rule out secondary causes if elevated.
20-24 years
Stressors, medications may impact. Start monitoring if high-normal.
25-29 years
Dietary changes, exercise for elevated readings. Birth control effects.
30-39 years
110/77 - 111/78
122/81 - 123/82
134/85 - 135/86
Monitor closely if readings increasing with age.
40-49 years
112/79 - 115/80
125/83 - 127/84
137/87 - 139/88
Lifestyle changes proven to reduce hypertension risk.
50-64 years
116/81 - 121/83
129/85 - 134/87
142/89 - 147/91
White coat effect common. Home monitoring advised.
65+ years
130+ Systolic Risk
Frailty, medications, conditions factored in management.

What are the Alternative CPR Techniques for Confined Spaces

According to a study evaluating CPR methods in confined spaces, alternative techniques include:

  1. One-Person Over-the-Head (OTH) CPR: This method involves performing chest compressions over the victim's head. The study found that OTH CPR is viable when space is extremely limited and only one rescuer is available, requiring careful hand placement and additional training for optimal effectiveness.
  2. Two-Person Straddle (STR) CPR: Two rescuers straddle the victim to perform chest compressions simultaneously. The study concluded that STR CPR provides comparable compression quality to standard two-person CPR, making it suitable for confined spaces where traditional CPR methods may be challenging.


19 airline employees trained in basic life support took part in this study evaluating CPR methods in confined spaces. They refreshed their standard CPR skills and learned two new methods. The findings underscore the importance of adapting CPR techniques to accommodate confined environments, ensuring effective life-saving measures can be administered even under restricted conditions


Safety Considerations and Best Practices

Prioritize your safety by using barriers like pocket masks for rescue breaths and minimizing unnecessary movement of the victim to prevent further injury. It's crucial to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and thoroughly assess potential risks in the environment before initiating CPR.


Managing Stress and Staying Calm

Maintain focus and composure during the rescue operation. Utilize stress management techniques, such as deep breathing and positive self-talk, to stay calm under pressure. Your ability to remain composed enhances the effectiveness of CPR and improves overall outcomes for the victim.


Post-Rescue Procedures

  • Once the victim is stabilized, prepare for the arrival of emergency responders.
  • Provide detailed information about the incident and any first aid administered.
  • Continue monitoring the victim's condition until professional help arrives.


What are the signs that CPR is being performed effectively in a confined space?

Signs that CPR is effective in a confined space include:

  • Visible Chest Rise: During rescue breaths, observe if the victim's chest rises, indicating proper ventilation.
  • Consistent Compression Depth and Rate: Ensure chest compressions are at least 2 inches deep for adults and children, and 1.5 inches for infants, at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.
  • Return of Spontaneous Circulation (ROSC): ROSC is indicated by signs such as a palpable pulse or spontaneous breathing.
  • Feedback from AED: If an AED is used, follow prompts to assess the heart rhythm and administer shocks if necessary, which indicates the effectiveness of CPR efforts.


Monitoring these signs helps responders gauge the effectiveness of CPR and adjust techniques as needed to maximize the chances of survival in confined spaces.


What if I can’t get a good seal for rescue breaths in a confined space?

If you find it challenging to achieve a proper seal for rescue breaths in a confined space, consider using a bag-valve mask if one is available. This device provides more effective ventilation while maintaining a barrier between you and the victim's airway.

Alternatively, focus on high-quality chest compressions if rescue breaths are not feasible in the current environment. Remember, effective chest compressions are crucial for sustaining circulation until professional help arrives.


How do I protect myself from harmful gases?

To safeguard yourself from harmful gases in a confined space, prioritize using appropriate respiratory protection, such as a respirator or mask with filters designed for chemical hazards. Continuously monitor gas levels using a portable gas detector or monitor before and during any rescue operations.

If the environment is deemed unsafe or gas levels are elevated, refrain from entering the confined space altogether. Your safety is paramount, and avoiding exposure to hazardous gases is crucial to preventing injury or harm.


What should I do if the confined space becomes unstable?

If the confined space shows signs of instability, such as structural damage, shifting materials, or collapsing walls, prioritize your safety and evacuate immediately. Do not attempt to perform CPR or rescue operations in an unstable environment, as it poses risks to both you and the victim. Alert emergency responders about the unstable conditions and provide them with detailed information about the situation from a safe location outside the confined space. Waiting for professional assistance ensures a safer and more effective response to the emergency.


What are the legal considerations for performing CPR in confined spaces?

Performing CPR in confined spaces involves several legal considerations:

  • Good Samaritan Laws: Many jurisdictions have Good Samaritan laws that protect individuals who provide reasonable assistance during emergencies, including CPR, from liability.
  • Training and Certification: Legal considerations often emphasize the importance of being trained and certified in CPR to ensure competence and minimize risks.
  • Consent: In some cases, consent to provide CPR is implied in emergency situations where the victim is unconscious or unable to communicate.
  • Occupational Safety: Depending on the setting, such as workplaces or public facilities, there are specific regulations regarding CPR training requirements and emergency response protocols.


How first responders communicate effectively in confined spaces during a CPR emergency?

Effective communication is critical in confined spaces during CPR emergencies:

  • Clear Instructions: Provide clear, concise instructions to team members regarding roles and responsibilities during CPR.
  • Use of Hand Signals: In environments with limited visibility or noise, use agreed-upon hand signals to communicate effectively.
  • Team Coordination: Establish a communication plan beforehand to ensure seamless coordination among team members.
  • Regular Updates: Continuously update team members about the victim's condition and any changes in the environment that affect rescue efforts.


How bystanders assist in a CPR emergency in a confined space?

Bystanders in confined-space CPR emergencies play a critical role by promptly calling emergency services, retrieving necessary equipment like AEDs and first aid kits, assisting with CPR if trained, and ensuring the area is clear of unnecessary personnel to enhance safety and effectiveness. Their proactive involvement supports responders in providing timely and effective care, improving outcomes for the victim.


How Should CPR Training Address the Unique Challenges of CPR in Confined Spaces?

CPR training should focus on adapting techniques for confined spaces, emphasizing safety protocols for hazards like low oxygen and toxic gases. Effective communication and proficiency in using specialized equipment are crucial for coordinating actions and ensuring safe and effective CPR delivery in restricted environments.


How CPR Training Improve Outcomes in Emergencies Involving Confined Spaces?

CPR training enhances outcomes by ensuring prompt and proficient response, minimizing delay in interventions crucial for survival. Training equips responders with skills to perform effective CPR despite space limitations, instilling confidence and readiness to handle emergencies with efficiency and competence.


What training is available for performing CPR in confined spaces?

Several training options cater to CPR in confined spaces, catering to different levels of expertise:

  • Basic Life Support (BLS): BLS courses provide foundational CPR skills applicable to adults, children, and infants, along with training in Automated External Defibrillator (AED) use.
  • Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS): ACLS training offers advanced CPR techniques, focusing on managing complex cardiac emergencies and enhancing team coordination in high-pressure environments.
  • Occupational Safety Courses: Many workplaces offer specialized CPR training designed for confined spaces, emphasizing safety protocols and risk assessment specific to hazardous environments.
  • CPR Training for Laypersons: Laypersons can enroll in basic CPR courses tailored for general community members. These courses teach essential CPR skills and basic life-saving techniques suitable for non-medical individuals.


Additionally, individuals can access online CPR training through reputable providers such as CPR Select and the American Training Association for CPR. These online CPR courses offer flexibility and convenience, enabling learners to acquire CPR skills remotely and at their own pace, while still receiving certification recognized by healthcare professionals and employers alike.






  • Occupational Health & Safety Confined Space Entry & Rescue
  • American Heart Association Resuscitation Guidelines
  • Handley AJ, Handley JA. Performing chest compressions in a confined space. Resuscitation. 2004 Apr;61(1):55-61. doi: 10.1016/j.resuscitation.2003.11.012. PMID: 15081182.
  • Bhatnagar V, Jinjil K, Dwivedi D, Verma R, Tandon U. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation: Unusual Techniques for Unusual Situations. J Emerg Trauma Shock. 2018 Jan-Mar;11(1):31-37. doi: 10.4103/JETS.JETS_58_17. PMID: 29628666; PMCID: PMC5852913.