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Tragic Confined Space Deaths Lead to 10 Serious OSHA Violations

Posted on 7/21/2017 by Roger Marks

Three workers died tragically in January in a workplace accident involving a confined space and toxic gas. Now, the utility company and the contractor that employed the workers face $119,500 in penalties for ten serious OSHA safety violations.

After a pipe-layer entered a manhole and lost consciousness, two co-workers attempted to rescue him, and all three perished—sadly a common trait of confined space incidents.

The two workers who tried to rescue their unconscious colleague reacted to human nature: the desire to somehow help in the heat of a terrifying moment. In these moments, effective safety training is crucial to prevent further loss of life. Only employees trained and equipped with proper PPE are authorized to enter a permit-controlled confined space.

The employer in this case allegedly failed to provide training to employees in confined space safety. In addition, the company did not create and document a confined space entry permit, failed to implement a written hazard communication program, and did not properly test for toxic gas in the confined work space.

Read more: Creating OSHA Work Permits for Hazardous Jobs

Q. What is a confined space?

A. A confined space is a space that is:

1.Large enough that an employee can enter it and perform work, but
2.Not designed for continuous employee occupancy, and
3.Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit.

[29 CFR 1910.146(b)]

Examples of confined spaces include tanks, hoppers, and other large means of containment, as well as structures like grain silos, vaults, and pits.

Q. What is an OSHA permit-required confined space?

A. A permit-required confined space is a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics:

1. It contains, or has the potential to contain, a hazardous atmosphere (e.g., toxic gas in a sewer or carbon dioxide buildup in a space with poor ventilation);
2. It contains a material that has the potential for engulfing a person who enters it (e.g., grain in a silo);
3. It has an internal configuration with inwardly converging walls or downward sloping floors with small cross-sections that could trap or asphyxiate a person who enters the space; or
4. It contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard (e.g., exposed electrical elements or moving machinery)

[1910.146(b)]

OSHA Confined Spaces Training

The Confined Space Entry Awareness Online Course builds employee understanding about the hazards of confined spaces and OSHA’s requirements for permit-controlled confined spaces.  Make absolutely sure that your employees know who is authorized to enter confined spaces at your facility—and who must stay clear. When it comes to OSHA permit-controlled confined spaces, straightforward, effective training can save lives.  

Tags: confined, fines and penalties, osha, spaces

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