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July 08, 2014
California company cited following confined space fire

Cal/OSHA recently cited an industrial service provider following an investigation of a flash fire inside a metal tank that resulted in serious burns to a worker. What did the company do wrong, and what can you learn from its mistakes? Keep reading to find out.

According to Cal/OSHA, on December 17, 2013, a worker was spraying a flammable coating on the inside walls of a large steel tank when a fire was ignited by a portable halogen light. The 37-year-old worker was rescued, but spent three days in the burn unit of a hospital to recover from his injuries.

Cal/OSHA cited the employer for knowingly using an unauthorized electric lamp while the painter was working in an explosive atmosphere, not having a permit to work in a confined space, and not having the proper ventilation or personal protective equipment (PPE) for such a hazardous space, among other violations.

These hazards led to one willful serious accident-related violation and three serious violations related to the lack of required entry permits for confined spaces, lack of PPE, and inadequate training for employees working in the tank. Twelve additional citations were also issued for a range of general violations, including failure to report the accident within 8 hours. Total proposed penalties are $82,090.

“This was a preventable accident,” said Christine Baker, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). “The employer was aware that working inside the confined space was dangerous but did not take the required steps to avoid putting workers at serious risk.”

Confined spaces are defined as large enough for workers to enter, but have limited openings for exit and entry, with a potential for hazards related to the atmosphere and space. Examples include water and sewer pipes, boilers, silos, kilns, tunnels, and pumping stations. In 2011, there were seven confined space fatalities in California, in addition to one fatality and two injuries from attempted rescues. Cal/OSHA launched a confined space emphasis program in 2012 to raise awareness of the hazards associated with confined spaces and ensure that employers follow proper safeguards.

Confined space safety tips

To prevent confined space injuries and fatalities at your facility, follow these tips:

  • Evaluate the actual and potential hazards in confined spaces. These can include atmospheric conditions, engulfment hazards, and fall or entrapment hazards.
  • Maintain a written program and permit system for confined space entry operations. The written program should identify the safety procedures and equipment necessary to protect workers from the hazards of the confined space(s).
  • Before employees enter a confined space, provide appropriate training for confined space authorize entrants, attendants, entry supervisors, and in-house rescue or emergency teams.
  • Train confined space entrants on:
    • The hazards that might exist in the space;
    • Signs, symptoms, and consequences of exposure;
    • Proper use of PPE and other safety equipment;
    • How to maintain communication with other members of the team;
    • The importance of preventing unauthorized entry; and
    • Any additional skills their assignment requires.
  • Provide refresher or supplementary training whenever hazard duties change or when there is an indication that employees do not have all the necessary knowledge to work safely.
  • Establish procedures for both non-entry and entry rescue.
  • Train on-site rescue personnel on the same material as authorized entrants, in addition to basic first aid and CPR. Simulated rescue operations should be conducted at least once a year.
  • Evaluate off-site rescue services to determine their ability to provide timely and effective rescue in case of emergency.
  • Allow off-site rescue services to access permit-required confined spaces in order to develop and practice rescue plans.
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