Author(s): Nancy Pearce. Published on March 1, 2017.

Hazards Everywhere

Recent examples of confined spaces fatalities

BY NANCY PEARCE

WORKERS OVERCOME BY TOXIC FUMES IN A MANHOLE

A worker and would-be rescuer died while trying to repair a leak inside a manhole. One worker entered the manhole to seal the leak and was overcome by toxic fumes generated by the repair effort, collapsing into chest-deep water. The second worker entered the manhole to try to rescue the first victim and was also overcome by fumes. Both workers drowned.

WORKER DIES IN CONCRETE MIXER

In Illinois in 2014, a temporary worker entered a concrete mixer’s discharge mud hopper to free a pneumatically powered discharge gate stuck in the open position because of hardened concrete. The gate, which had not been isolated to prevent unintentional operation during maintenance activity, closed and crushed the worker.

WORKER SUFFOCATES IN HOPPER AT SUGAR PROCESSOR

In 2013, a worker at a Pennsylvania sugar processing facility climbed inside a large hopper to remove sugar clogs. The worker fell to the bottom of the hopper and his legs went through the chute; he was engulfed by sugar and suffocated. It was reported that a safety screen to prevent clogging had been removed from the chute since it slowed production.

SEVEN DIE IN TANK AT BREWERY

In Mexico City in 2013, seven workers were killed in a tank that was undergoing maintenance and cleaning at a brewery. Four contract employees were overcome while cleaning the tank, as were three employees who entered the tank in an attempt to rescue them. It is thought that the deaths were due to “unspecified toxins” inside the tank.

GASES OVERCOME WINE MAKER

In 2011 in California, the assistant wine maker at a winery was transferring red wine from one tank to another when he was overcome by nitrogen and argon gases that were present inside one of the tanks. He was later found unresponsive inside the tank and was pronounced dead that evening.

WORKER KILLED IN ELEVATOR INCIDENT IN NURSING HOME

In 2015 in New York, a worker servicing an elevator shaft at a nursing home was killed when an elevator from an upper floor descended and pinned him between an affixed steel ladder and a support beam.

FORMER FIRE CHIEF DIES IN GRAIN BIN

In Nebraska in 2014, a worker who was also a former fire chief climbed inside a bin containing corn. He carried a pole that he intended to use to clear a crust of kernels that was preventing corn from funneling out to be loaded into trucks. The corn collapsed beneath him, entrapping him in the grain where he suffocated. Rescuers searched for more than two hours until they located the man’s body, buried under 10 feet of corn.

WORKER DIES WHILE CLEANING MOLASSES STORAGE TANK

In 2016 in Michigan, a 23-year-old worker died while cleaning a molasses storage tank at work, likely the result of fermentation of the molasses that would create an oxygen-deficient atmosphere in the tank. Two teenagers died in a similar manner while cleaning a molasses tank in Michigan in 2010.

NANCY PEARCE is senior fire protection engineer at NFPA and chair of AIHA’s Confined Spaces Committee.