OSHA: Air Monitoring Failure Killed 2 in Confined Space

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An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that an Arkansas construction contractor failed to test oxygen levels in the confined space before two workers entered a sewer 20 feet below ground at an Edmund work site. Both died because of a lack of oxygen.

This story hammers home the importance of not only testing air quality, but being proficient at that testing. First-due fire companies can easily become victims in a situation like this without proper air monitoring. And getting that air monitoring right, especially for first-arriving, comes from quality, consistent and frequent training.

On June 14, 2022, an employee of Belt Construction climbed into a newly installed sewer manhole to conduct testing when he lost consciousness. Trying to rescue the worker, a second employee followed into the manhole and lost consciousness. Both workers later succumbed to their injuries.

Here’s a news station video clip from the incident.

Also Read: NIOSH: Why Firefighters Must Understand Multi-Gas Monitor Readings

OSHA investigators determined the company did not complete required planning before allowing workers to enter the space. In pre-entry planning, a confined space must be tested for safety, including finding out if ventilation is needed. Belt Construction also failed to provide rescue equipment and did not train workers on confined space entry procedures or obtain permits required by federal law.

OSHA cited the company for six serious and two willful violations and proposed $287,150 in penalties.

“Two lives were lost — and family, friends and co-workers are left to grieve — because Belt Construction Inc. failed to follow legally required steps designed to prevent a needless incident like this from happening,” OSHA Area Director Steven Kirby said in a news release. “Employers assigning people to work inside a confined space must comply with safety standards, including providing and ensuring the use of required safety equipment, and obtain all necessary permits before the job starts to avoid tragedy.”In July 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that – from 2011 to 2018 – 1,030 workers died in confined space incidents, 61 of them in sewers, manholes and storm drains.

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