Friday, July 09, 2004

Confined Space "Mystery"

Oh yeah, what a mystery! Who has ever heard of oxygen deprivation in a confined space? Quel surprise!

Now look at the title of this blog. I didn't make the term up (although I meant it more figuratively than literally).
Deadly Mystery At Delaware County Construction Site

Jul 9, 2004 1:29 pm US/Eastern

PHILADELPHIA (KYW) One worker is dead and another is clinging to life after losing oxygen at a Newtown Square, Delaware County, construction site.

The workers were inside a nine-foot manhole working on a sewer line just after 8 a.m. Friday when officials say they began to lose oxygen. CBS 3's Natasha Brown reports another worker pulled the unconscious men from the hole but has been told they were already in cardiac arrest.

Both were rushed from the 400 block of Merlin Road to an area hospital where one was pronounced dead upon arrival. The other was admitted.

Neither victim has been identified.

Roman Siletsky of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration says there was a lack of oxygen in the manhole but noted no fumes.

An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Now, I've got a couple of problems here. First, it is well known that one of the hazards of confined spaces is oxygen deprivation. That's because chemical reactions (such as development of rust) or decaying organic material in the space (e.g. sewage, leaves, etc) consumes the oxygen. Which is why OSHA has a "Permit Required Confined Space" standard requiring, among other things, that spaces be monitored for oxygen deficiency and toxic gases, and that a trained and properly equipped attendant be present to monitor the workers inside the space, and perform a rescue (or call for help), if necessary. Any employer whose employees work on sewer lines should know this.

The other problem I have is with the reporter. Natasha, maybe you could do just a little bit of research here. Just because the hazards of confined spaces are a mystery to you doesn't mean they're a mystery (I hope) for most employers and employees who enter manholes, nor certainly to OSHA or those familiar with workplace safety issues. A couple of questions to a knowledgeable person or two could have put other employers on notice that their deadly negligence won't be overlooked by the media, and it could have educated some workers and possibly saved some lives.

Instead, most readers will go away thinking, "Gosh, how mysterious. I wonder what happened? Just one of those things. Too bad. What's for dinner."

Update here.