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October 31, 2013
Oxygen deficiency causes fatality, OSHA citations; Prevent similar incidents with proper confined space procedures

A tragic incident in Arkansas led OSHA to cite a trucking company with 11 safety and health violations following the death of a temporary worker. Keep reading to learn what happened and how you can prevent a similar incident.

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In April, a temporary worker who had been cleaning the inside of a tanker trailer was found unconscious and later died from an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. According to OSHA, the worker had not been properly trained on the hazards of confined spaces.

The employer was cited with a willful violation for failing to maintain air monitoring equipment and evaluate permit-required confined space conditions prior to entry. Carlos Reynolds, OSHA’s area director in Little Rock, commented, “The employer failed to implement all aspects of a confined space program. . . . This lack of regard for worker safety is unacceptable and led to a loss of life.”

In addition to the willful violation, OSHA cited the employer with 10 violations for hazards including falls, lack of a hazard communication program, and chemical labeling. The employer faces a proposed fine totaling $113,400.

Confined space considerations

A confined space is defined as a space that has limited means of entry and/or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy. Some confined spaces are classified as permit-required confined spaces. Permit-required confined spaces possess one or more hazardous characteristics, such as a hazardous atmosphere, material that could potentially engulf an entrant, asphyxiation or entrapment hazards, or any other recognized serious hazard. Typical permit-required confined spaces include storage tanks, grain bins, sewers and manholes, and underground tunnels.

If a workplace contains permit-required confined spaces that employees will enter, the employer must develop a written permit-required space program. This program must identify the safety procedures and equipment necessary to protect workers from the hazards of the confined spaces in the facility.

The following four types of employees have an active role in confined space operations:

  • Authorized entrants have been trained to work in confined spaces. They are the only employees who are allowed to work in permit spaces.
  • Entry supervisors authorize employees to work in hazardous confined spaces.
  • Attendants monitor confined space work and call for help if necessary.
  • Rescue team members respond to confined space emergencies. They are the only ones allowed to do this.

Employers with permit-required confined spaces must also:

  • Use signs or other effective means of preventing unauthorized entry;
  • Identify and evaluate hazards of permit spaces before employees enter them (i.e., through atmospheric testing);
  • Designate personnel with active roles in entry procedures and train them on their duties;
  • Use written permits to authorize work in permit spaces;
  • Provide necessary protective and rescue equipment;
  • Assign a trained entry supervisor to authorize employees to work in permit spaces;
  • Assign a trained attendant to monitor work in confined spaces; and
  • Create and train a rescue team.

Finally, it’s important to remember that temporary workers are not exempt from these requirements. If temporary employees will play an active role in confined space operations, they must receive the same training and follow the same safety procedures as permanent employees. While temporary staffing agencies may provide general safety and health training, host employers are typically responsible for providing training specific to the hazards in their facilities, including confined spaces.

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