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Course 713 - Confined Space Program

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Confined Space Accidents

Asphyxiation in Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, a three-person work crew ruptured a water line while boring through a street to prepare the way for extended water service. The workers were instructed to close off three valves in order to cut off water flow to the damaged pipe. The workmen had no personal protective equipment or training for confined space entry. They were aware of a company policy which required atmospheric testing before entry, but they decided that shutting off the water was more important. They had no trouble with the first valve pit. However, the employee who entered the second pit, which had not been opened in three years, soon called for help. The crew leader entered the pit to assist the initial entrant but was overcome. The third crewman realized that entering the pit was unsafe and went for help. Firefighters equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus were on the scene within a few minutes. They entered the second valve pit, discharged oxygen from cylinders to increase the oxygen level and retrieved the victims. Both victims died shortly afterward, asphyxiated due to oxygen deprivation. The accident report noted that the oxygen level at a valve pit two miles downstream from the scene of the accident was only three percent!

Explosion in Puerto Rico

Workers at a refinery in Puerto Rico were cleaning a large storage tank. Since it had last been cleaned, the tank had been used at various times to store gasoline, gas oil, and light and heavy crude oils. The employer expected that the tank would contain residues from these liquids.

The procedures, tools, and all other equipment to be used for entry were prepared by the parent company, not by the refinery. Under the terms of the entry permit, workers were required to use air-supplying respirators, lifelines, explosive-proof lighting, and were also required to test the atmosphere for flammable conditions before and during entry. However, no one at the refinery had been made accountable for compliance with the permit.

Employee accounts indicate that refinery management originally followed permit procedures but largely ignored them the day of the incident. For example, even though it was known that the work could generate a flammable atmosphere and that only explosion-proof lighting was allowed where a flammable atmosphere could exist, only two of the twelve lamps illuminating the inside of the tank were explosion-proof; no lifelines were available; and no atmospheric monitoring was done.

Five employees were in the tank when it exploded and burned briefly. The workers outside the tank were unable to help them. The fire burned out in just seconds, but by then four of the workers were dead. The fifth entrant died of massive respiratory injuries several days later.

Town mourns farmers killed in manure pit

Menominee, Mich. - Five farmers who died trying to save one another in a manure pit were buried Saturday as the family grappled with running the 100-year-old dairy.

The five were overcome by methane fumes Wednesday morning trying to save each other at the Theuerkauf family dairy barn in Menominee County.

Sheriff's officials believe Hofer, a farm employee, went into the pit first - perhaps to clear a drain - and collapsed after breathing the fumes, which are produced by manure. Each one followed to rescue the man before, until all had died. There was about a foot of manure in the 12-foot deep pit.

Rescuers account for over 60% of all confined space fatalities!