Confined space triple fatality

Reporting on fatality is sad; reporting on a Confined space triple fatality is even. Although this tragedy occurred in America, it could so easily be a report about a UK incident. This confined space tragedy happened in South Florida and claimed the lives of three workers – two of them were “would-be rescuers”. Two companies were taken to task over this issue.

Confined space triple fatality: What happened?

The incident occurred on Jan. 16, 2017, when a 34-year-old pipe layer entered the manhole (which is a confined space) and quickly became unresponsive. A 49-year-old laborer then entered the manhole and attempted to rescue the first employee. After the second employee also became unresponsive, a 24-year-old equipment operator followed in an attempt to help his fallen co-workers. Sadly, all three men died. Post-incident atmospheric testing in the manhole revealed lethal levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide.

The fatality count could have been even worse; two other employees and a volunteer firefighter were also exposed to the toxic gases in the manhole during rescue attempts but survived.

Confined space triple fatality: Why it happened

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the USA)   has cited Douglas N. Higgins, Inc. and its related contracting company, McKenna Contracting, LLC with 10 serious violations totaling $119,507, in penalties. These incident-related serious violations are for:

  • failing to purge or ventilate the confined space before entry,
  • exposing the workers to an asphyxiation hazard, and
  • not providing necessary rescue and emergency equipment for employees that were overcome inside a permit-required confined space.

In addition, OSHA issued serious citations to Higgins and McKenna Contracting for failing to:

  • Develop and implement a written hazard communication program for a worksite in which employees were exposed to dangerous chemicals and gases.
  • Use a calibrated direct-reading device to test for toxic gases, creating an asphyxiation hazard.
  • Create and document the confined space entry permit.
  • Provide training to employees in the safe performance of their assigned duties in permit-required confined spaces.
  • Provide a guardrail around the manhole opening, exposing employees to a fall hazard.

Condell Eastmond, the OSHA area director in Fort Lauderdale, said:

The hazards of working in manholes are well established, but there are ways to make it safe

Three employees needlessly lost their lives and others were injured due to their employer’s failure to follow safe work practices

Confined Spaces are dangerous

All too often confined spaces are associated with multiple fatalities, often with rescuers becoming casualties.

You need to:

  • Avoid entry into confined spaces where this is reasonably practicable
  • Assess the risks where entry cannot be avoided – Confined Spaces Risk Assessment
  • Train those involved in Confined Space entry
  • Ensure that procedures are in place to manage and control confined space entry
  • Have in place suitable rescue procedures for those who are overcome within confined space – that do not involve putting others at risk

Do you need Confined Space Awareness Training? If so, please contact LRB Consulting on 01509 550023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.