It’s 2018 and employee fatalities caused by confined spaces are still a growing concern for workers as they step foot on their worksites each day. OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.146(c)(1) defines a confined space as having a “limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.”
Toxic fumes, reduced oxygen levels, and combustible atmospheres are among the most dangerous hazards workers face. Even with an abundance of knowledge, air sampling technology and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available to employees, careless mistakes are made when entry and exit procedures aren’t carried out properly.
“Canary in a Coal Mine”
Before sophisticated gas detection technologies were invented, coal miners were required to rely on the help of canaries to detect carbon monoxide and other toxic gases upon entering a potentially hazardous atmosphere. If the canary died during the descent down into the tunnel, this alerted the miner that toxic gases were present, encouraging them to evacuate immediately. Luckily, the days of the “Canary in a Coal Mine” are long gone. Today, workers have access to a variety of instruments such as gas monitors and confined space monitors that allow them to take measurements of the atmosphere before entering a confined space. Relying on safety equipment alone, however, isn’t enough. Deaths can still occur when protocols aren’t in place, or worse, employees choose to ignore them.
In 2017, three utility workers in Key Largo, Florida died when they entered a manhole and became asphyxiated by poisonous fumes. According to a report by The Washington Post, what began as a one-man job, quickly turned into a rescue attempt by two other workers, causing a chain reaction. None of the men followed the proper entry procedures and failed to wear respiratory protection, leaving each of the men unconscious once they entered the manhole. As a result, OSHA cited Douglas N. Higgins, Inc. and its contracting company, McKenna Contracting with 10 violations and a total of $119,507 in penalties. According to OSHA, the company failed to:
- Purge and ventilate the confined space
- Test for toxic gases before allowing the employee(s) to enter
- Provide necessary rescue and emergency equipment to employees
For a full list of violations, click here.
Learning from Past Mistakes
Although the hazards of working in confined spaces are many, most of the deaths we see reported each year are 100% preventable. Providing adequate training and safety equipment to your employees is critical in protecting them from unnecessary risks and implementing safe work practices on your worksite.
Before allowing work to be performed, a hazard assessment should be completed that takes into account the potential types of atmospheres, physical hazards, and temperature extremes employees may face as they enter and exit a permit confined space. Our safety specialists are here to assist you in identifying hazards and select the best instrumentation for your worksite.
Want to learn more about proper Confined Space Entry? CLICK HERE to download a poster for your worksite.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the Instrumentation products ORR Safety offers.
Confined spaces overview. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/confinedspaces/
"The Story of the Real Canary in the Coal Mine." Retrieved from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/story-real-canary-coal-mine-180961570/
"One by one, 3 utility workers descended into a manhole. One by one, they died." Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/01/18/three-utility-workers-descend-to-their-deaths-in-florida-manhole-overcome-by-fumes/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4d18e07f99c8
"OSHA: Safety Failures Led to Workers' Death in Key Largo Manhole." Retrieved from: https://miami.cbslocal.com/2017/07/18/osha-safety-failures-death-key-largo-workers/