A spinoff from the nation's space program can help to keep maintenance and rescue workers safe, according to officials of a Baltimore-based company.

The company, Total Inert Maintenance and Equipment Inc., has designed a life-support system based on the astronauts' helmets and air-supply and communications equipment. TIME is using the system in its main line of business: loading and unloading catalysts -- substances that facilitate chemical reactions -- on oil refinery reactors.

Now the company also is considering selling the system for fire-fighting and rescue and refinery work.

According to TIME, the system includes:

*Three air supplies -- two separate air delivery systems and an independent bottle for emergency use.

*A control console with monitors, alarms and a communications system linked to each person wearing one of the life-support systems.

*An umbilical cord carrying air, communications, safety and lifting cables.

A communications system built into the helmet, which eliminates surrounding noise and which a worker can operate without using his or her hands.

Company officials said that these features and the one-piece helmet's hard surface offer more protection than life-support systems with soft masks. They also noted that a second person has to operate the helmet's locking device, so that, in an emergency, a panicky user cannot remove it.

In many instances, the system would be worn in conjunction with some type of protective suit.

The wearable part of the system weighs about 15 pounds. The price will range between approximately $20,000 and $60,000 for systems of varying complexity accommodating from two to six people, according to Reid Eikner, TIME's president. The company also may offer a self-contained back-pack system, probably for "somewhere in the area of $2,000 to $2,500," Eikner added.

TIME's system has been certified for hazardous-industrial use by Lloyd's Registry of Shipping, clearing the way for sales overseas. TIME officials said that they also are seeking certification from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to permit sales in this country and that they expect to receive such certification by the first quarter of 1986.

NIOSH -- which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services -- conducts research and development and prepares recommendations to regulatory agencies on occupational safety and health standards. It also tests and certifies respirators with the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the Labor Department, according to John Moran, director of NIOSH's division of safety research in Morgantown, W. Va.

TIME has started to analyze the potential market for the system. Company Vice President Wayne Dobbs said that TIME sees a potential $20-million-a-year market in refineries, but is not sure of the market for rescue and fire-fighting applications.

About half a dozen companies offer hard-helmet life-support systems similar to TIME's and also derived in part from equipment developed for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and another half a dozen offer systems using so-called soft masks, Eikner said. Moran agreed with this assessment.

Eikner asserted that the Llyod's Registry of Shipping certification and company enhancements to the air-supply demand valves set TIME's system apart from those of its rivals. He also said that his company may apply for a patent on its enhancements to the demand valve.

TIME is a subsidiary of CRI Ventures, a Baltimore-based company whose businesses also include a catalyst-regeneration facility in Medicine Hat, Canada. CRI ventures, in turn, is owned by Shell Oil Co. and CRI International Inc. The latter is a privately owned company also based in Baltimore. CRI International has catalyst-regeneration facilities in Lafayette, La., and Luxembourg.

CRI was formed in 1975 in Baltimore to regenerate catalysts used by oil refineries. CRI and a Swedish and British company subsequently formed Catalystics, a manufacturer of fluid-cracking catalysts used mainly in the production of automotive gasolines. They sold Catalystics to Union Carbide Corp. last year.

TIME has six upper-managerial and accounting personnel in Baltimore, 45 more employes in Houston, 12 in Canada, 40 in Scunthorpe, Britain, 5 in a new facility in Marseilles and 4 in Saudi Arabia.

Asked if selling the life-support system to refineries might reduce its maintenance business, Eikner said, "Just having the equipment is not the total answer. You still have to have trained technicians. We don't believe that that will necessarily put us out of business from the service side."

Besides, he added, TIME would concentrate on selling the system for fire-fighting and rescue work, rather than refinery maintenance work.

Meanwhile, word is getting out about the possibility of being able to purchase the life-support system, and it has yielded an inquiry from at least one unexpected source, according to Eikner.

"We've gotten an inquiry from a firm that is building a self-contained sea habitat" for workers to live in underwater while maintaining North Sea drilling platforms and pipelines, he said.