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Unsafe working environment in confined space can be deadly

Confined spaces pose severe and life-threatening hazards to workers nationwide, including in Missouri. A report about a recent workplace accident in another state underscored the dangers of allowing unprotected workers to enter an unsafe working environment of a confined space. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it is investigating an incident involving an employer who already has a record of confined space violations.

Reportedly, the incident followed complaints lodged by residents about months of lingering smells akin to rotten eggs in the air. It was determined that the smell resulted from backed up sewage that caused methane gases and hydrogen sulfide to build up. The city hired a private contractor to resolve the problem — a manhole cover was removed, and a worker sent into the confined space without any protective gear.

The dangerous gases overwhelmed him as soon as the employee entered the 15-foot-deep hole, causing him to lose consciousness. A second worker entered the drainage hole to save his colleague, but his fate was the same. When another worker also collapsed after trying to save his co-workers, a firefighter was next to enter. However, he apparently removed his breathing apparatus to allow him to fit through the manhole, and he also lost consciousness. The rescuer was fortunate to survive, but the three workers — ages 34, 49 and 24 — all died in the hole.

The rescuer was flown to a medical facility, and his condition was reported to be stable. He is no longer in a coma and expected to recover. Reportedly, three more county workers received medical treatment at a hospital for treatment of exposure to the same fumes. As would be the case in Missouri, the surviving family members of the deceased workers and the affected rescuer and county workers will be entitled to pursue claims for workers’ compensation benefits to assist with the financial consequences of the tragic incident in the clearly unsafe working environment.

Source: ehstoday.com, “Poisonous Fumes in Confined Space Lead to Three Worker Deaths”, Stefanie Valentic, Jan. 19, 2017