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)


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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