3 Lives ‘needlessly lost’ in confined space tragedy

A South Florida utility contractor and a related contracting company has been charged and fined after an investigation into the deaths of three workers who succumbed to toxic gases in a manhole in January at a worksite in the US state.

A 34-year-old pipe layer entered the manhole, a confined space, and quickly became unresponsive. A 49-year-old labourer entered the space to try to revive the pipe layer. After the second worker became unresponsive, a third man, a 24-year-old equipment operator, followed his fallen co-workers into the hole. Tragically, all three died.

Post-incident atmospheric testing in the manhole revealed lethal levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) says two other employees and a volunteer firefighter were also exposed to toxic gases during rescue attempts but survived.

OSHA investigators cited the two businesses with 10 serious violations carrying nearly $120,000 in penalties. Violations included failing to purge or ventilate the confined space before entry, exposing workers to an asphyxiation hazard, and not providing necessary rescue and emergency equipment for employees overcome in a permit-required confined space.

Other violations addressed problems with hazard communication, confined space entry permits, and the requirement to provide a guardrail around the manhole opening.

Noted OSHA Area Director Condell Eastmond, “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.”

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