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OSHA Confined Space Incident Log

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Confined spaces continue to present fatal hazards to workers, and OSHA continues to take notice. While OSHA lists fewer confined space accidents in 2021 than in 2020, 100% of them involved fatalities. the following summaries are from OSHA News Releases. These tragedies serve as reminders to employers and rescuers of the inherent dangers involved in confined space entry. Don't take chances when confined spaces are involved – the cost is simply too high.

8/2/2021 Dallas – Initiative to Protect Workers from Confined Space Dangers1

OSHA Regional Emphasis will target the transportation tank cleaning industry in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

This special initiative is designed to focus on industries involving tank cleaning activities, including trucking, rail and road transportation, remediation services, material recovery and waste management services. Transportation tanks on trucks, trailers or railcars require cleaning and inspecting before they are refilled for transport. The workers who clean these tanks risk exposure to toxic vapors from chemicals, decaying crops, waste and other substances, and to asphyxiation, fires and explosions.

The agency reported that a worker cleaning the inside of a tank trailer in Pasadena, Texas, in December 2019 fell victim to hazardous vapors, as did a co-worker who attempted rescue. Then, in August 2020, two workers entered a natural gas tanker on a railcar in Hugo, Oklahoma, and fell victim to its vapors (see the 2/10 release below). Due to these incidents, four lives were lost in the tank cleaning industry in less than a year – a troubling trend of preventable workplace deaths in the region.

“Too often, employers allow workers to enter tanks without testing atmospheric conditions, completing confined space entry permits or providing adequate respiratory protection,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric Harbin.

8/2/2021 Chicago – Initiative to Protect Workers in Tank Cleaning Industry from Atmospheric, Confined Space Hazards2

OSHA Regional Emphasis was issued for the Midwest after multiple deaths occurred in tank trucks. The report listed two examples of instances:

  • A worker tasked with cleaning a chemical tank trailer collapsed upon entering the tank. Hearing the employee’s call for help, a nearby truck driver entered the tank. Both succumbed to fatal toxic fumes.
  • A worker opened the lid of a tanker trailer containing toluene and was found a short time later lying across the open dome and unresponsive. He survived after being treated at a local hospital for respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

OSHA Chicago reported that 23 deaths and 97 incidents have occurred in the region since 2016. The most common violations included the failure to prevent inhalation of harmful substances and to follow procedures for permit-required confined spaces.

7/23/2021 Georgia – Six Preventable Confined Space Deaths at Poultry Processing Plant3

On January 28, 2021, six workers went to work at a poultry processing plant unaware that they would not be returning home. Just after their shift began, a freezer malfunctioned, releasing colorless, odorless liquid nitrogen that displaced the oxygen in the room.

Three maintenance workers entered the freezer room without precautions – never trained on the deadly effects of nitrogen exposure – and were overcome immediately. Three other workers entered the room and were also overcome. Five of the workers died immediately, a sixth died on the way to the hospital. At least a dozen other workers needed hospital care.

Of the numerous violations, the company failed to perform a hazard assessment for exposure to liquid nitrogen and also failed to implement a permit-required confined space program for workers who entered the freezer. In addition, they did not notify contractors who are required to work inside the liquid nitrogen freezer that it was a permit-required confined space.

3/29/2021 Ohio – Production Facility Cited for Exposing Employees to Dangerous Confined Spaces and other Hazards4

A January 2021 investigation found that machine operators and maintenance employees entered powder-coated ovens routinely without testing atmospheric conditions or securing natural gas lines and operating machine parts. The company also exposed workers to multiple safety and health hazards by failing to designate the ovens as permit-required confined spaces. The employer also failed to isolate natural gas lines and mechanical energy, i.e., lockout/tagout.

“Confined spaces often expose workers to atmospheric and mechanical hazards,” said OSHA Area Director Ken Montgomery. “OSHA has specific regulations for implementing required training and safety procedures to protect workers who must enter confined spaces, including atmospheric testing and ensuring equipment and energy sources are disabled before workers enter these spaces.”

2/10/2021 Oklahoma – Two Confined Space Deaths at Railcar Company5

Here is additional information concerning a railcar incident that was mentioned in the August release above.

A worker entered a natural gas railcar for cleaning on August 12, 2020. He became unresponsive shortly after entering the tank. A second employee entered the space and was also overcome in an attempt to rescue the fallen worker. Both workers were eventually recovered and later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

OSHA found that the company failed to require a permit to allow entry into the railcar, ventilate the space, monitor hazards inside the space and complete entry permits for work inside a confined space. The company was cited for 11 serious violations and two willful violations.

“Work inside confined spaces is a dangerous job and federal workplace safety standards must be followed to avoid disaster,” said OSHA Area Director Steven Kirby. “As is the case here, failing to follow OSHA standards can be the difference between life and death.”

Roco Rescue CS Attendant Requirements

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So You’re the Confined Space Hole Watch…Now What?

Friday, September 17, 2021
Safe Entry Team graphic 2018

First of all, don’t let the jargon “hole watch” fool you. The attendant’s role is key to the safety of the entry operation, and especially for the entrants inside the space. Lives are literally on the line – including the attendant’s if a bad decision is made to enter the space.

As you can see from the graphic, the hole watch (attendant) is the “eyes and ears of safety” and a crucial part of the Safe Entry Team. This position is critical to watching out for the entrants and recognizing the need for calling emergency services – and, of course, the quicker the better. One more reason the position of hole watch cannot be taken lightly.

It is also the responsibility of the employer or entry supervisor to make sure that the attendant receives adequate training prior to the entry. The attendant needs to be capable of monitoring the entrants and reacting properly in an emergency. This may include the operation of retrieval systems should evacuation become necessary.

entrant-monitoring

If there are any changes to the entry operations, the attendant may require additional training depending on the hazards. Re-training is also required if there are any deviations from the permit space procedures – or if the employer feels the attendant is inadequately prepared.

Hole Watch is critical for entrant safety and knowing when to call emergency services–and, of course, the quicker the better.

As a reminder, employers or entry supervisors are required to…

  • Provide the support that attendants need to fulfill their role.
  • Provide informational resources concerning the hazards or potential hazards.
  • Provide the necessary equipment and training as required.
  • Determine if the attendant will be authorized to perform non-entry rescue (retrieval) and clearly communicate this to the attendant.

“Do’s and Don’ts” for the Confined Space Hole Watch

Diligence is critical for the hole watch or attendant. It’s a very important position. Pay attention and know your job! Here are a few “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to remember if you’re assigned the task of hole watch.

"Do's" for the Confined Space Attendant:

  • Remain alert – lives are on the line.
  • Take the initiative to learn everything you need to know as well as how to operate any equipment as required.
  • Review the permit and understand the prohibited conditions.
  • Know the hazards (or potential hazards) of the entry.
  • Seek resources for more information (SDS, LOTO schedules, baseline assessments, etc.)
  • Learn the mode of entry.
  • Know the signs, symptoms and behavioral effects of exposure.
  • Know the consequences of exposure.
  • Keep track of entrants – know who is inside the space at all times. Use a tracking system (such as a roster) when there are multiple entrants. Do not rely on memory alone!
  • Inform entry supervisor and entrants if unauthorized persons have entered the space.
  • Use appropriate PPE for the area and ensure that basic needs are met (water, shade, etc.)
  • Learn the proper operation of any required equipment including air monitoring, communications, non-entry rescue, etc.
  • Conduct and log periodic air monitoring, as required. Note: Continuous air monitoring may be required based on Construction 1926 Subpart AA.
  • Make sure that you have a reliable means to communicate with the entrants – and test it!
  • Perform non-entry rescue (retrieval) as needed and if authorized to do so.
  • Inspect retrieval equipment pre-entry and practice using it – don’t wait until there is an emergency to try and figure it out.
  • Know how to contact rescue services (in advance) should the need arise.
  • Summon the rescue service as soon as you determine that entrants may need assistance.

“Don’ts” for the Confined Space Attendant:

  • Don’t accept the assignment as Hole Watch until you have been briefed on all planned activities both inside and outside the space.
  • Don’t take your responsibilities lightly.
  • Don’t leave the area outside the space unless relieved by another attendant.
  • Don’t perform any duties that would distract or interfere with attendant duties.
  • Don’t allow unauthorized persons to approach or enter the permit space – inform the entry supervisor as needed.
  • Don’t wait until a suspected prohibited condition becomes obvious or worsens prior to ordering the entrants to evacuate the space. It’s better to err on the safe side vs. not evacuating the entrants soon enough!
  • Don’t forget to keep a watch for hazards outside the space – such as unexpected airflows; heavy lifts in the area; and use of chemicals (or spills).
  • Don’t enter the space to investigate, and don’t attempt an entry rescue unless you are authorized, trained and equipped to do so. Even then, you must first be relieved by another qualified attendant.
  • Don’t allow the entry supervisor to close out a permit until 100% of entrants are accounted for and out of the space!

Hole Watch: A Crucial Connection

Once again, we can’t overemphasize the importance of the attendant or hole watch. Don’t take this position lightly. These individuals are the first line of protection for those inside the space. When selecting an attendant, make sure they are capable of handling the responsibilities of the job. They should be trained and prepared to act in an emergency. The timeliness of their response is crucial to the safety of the entrants. Failure to properly perform these duties has led to multiple fatalities – both for the entrants and the attendants themselves.

Roco Rescue CS Attendant Requirements

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Confined Space Fatalities…an updated look at the numbers

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Ten years ago we published a review of the statistics from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in confined spaces. How have the stats changed over the years?

We were surprised to find that confined space fatalities have increased in recent years.

Annual CS Falalities_2011-18The 2011 to 2018 average was 128 deaths per year, up from 96 in 2005-2009, and the trend was a consistent increase from 2013 through 2017. Only one state (Rhode Island) experienced no confined space fatalities during this period. This is yet another notable increase, as only 28 states recorded fatalities in 2005-2009.

CS Fatalities by Activity_2011-18The construction industry again took the lead for most fatalities, but it’s important to note that more fatalities occurred during repairs and maintenance than during construction or dismantling (226 vs 193).

In a repeat from our prior analysis, atmospheric hazards were not the biggest cause of fatalities. It was again the Physical Hazards that topped the chart, with “Contact with Objects and Equipment” being the largest set of causes.

CS Fatalities by Event_2011-18This Physical Hazards area includes:

  • Struck by = 106
    • 61 of those were falling objects
  • Caught in = 82
  • Collapses = 294
    • 168 of those were Trench/Excavation fatalities, 135 being in the private construction industry

In comparison, there were 165 deaths from inhalation of a harmful substance and/or oxygen deficiency (excluding drownings) and another 165 deaths from falls. This means that these three hazards account for almost half of the 1,030 deaths during this 8-year period.

Trench Collapses, Atmospheric Hazards, and Falls account for half of all Confined Space* related fatalities from 2011-2018.

These numbers serve to remind us of how important safety precautions and training are when working around confined spaces. As rescuers, we routinely focus on atmospheric hazards. However, these statistics show we must be aware of the many physical hazards that confined spaces so often include.

*Note that CFOI’s definition of a confined space may differ from the OSHA definition.

Data and images are excerpts from Roco Rescue’s presentation at the VPPPA 2021 Safety+ National Symposium by Chris Carlsen, Director of Training and Tim Robson, Chief Instructor and Regional CSRT Manager. Download the presentation’s slide deck

HierarchyofFallProPoster

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Confined Space Rescue Planning: Key Considerations

Monday, March 2, 2020

Do you have a rescue plan for your permit-required confined space entry work? One that has been practiced regularly and revised if necessary? If you can't emphatically say "yes" to these questions, consider this sobering statistic: Over 60% of confined-space fatalities in multifatality confined-space incidents involve the would-be rescuer. This is often due to poor and/or quick decision-making when things go wrong... in other words, not sticking to the plan (if one exists). Having a plan in place that accounts for all the "what-ifs" can prevent these fatalities from happening.

What elements should a permit-required confined space rescue plan include? Roco Rescue Safety Officer Pat Furr outlines these in an article in Safety + Health (the official magazine of the National Safety Council).

Read the article in its entirety and download our Confined Space Entry Quick Reference Checklist.

CS Preplan Checklist

3 Innovations That Will Change Technical Rescue In The 2020s

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

By Pat Furr

I’d like to share 3 innovations that I see as having game-changing potential for rescue operations in the next decade. None of these 3 are brand new, but recent advances have earned them a place in the rescue team’s toolkit.

Rescuers Lower Patient In A Litter

Drones

One of the most dangerous aspects of rescue work is the time pressure that exists to reach victims before they succumb. Unfortunately, we often don’t have eyes on the victim and can’t communicate with them, so we must make assumptions about their condition. Rescuers frequently put themselves at greater risk in order to reach a victim quickly. Drones have the potential to give rescuers a clearer picture of the victim’s condition and possibly even communicate directly with them. This allows rescuers to appropriately pace their actions, to know what tools to bring to effectively treat the victim, and to avoid the same pitfalls that befell the victim. Not to sound too gruesome, but a drone can also help determine if it is a rescue or a recovery operation, which has obvious implications for the rescue operation’s pace and risk exposure.

Drones can also serve as reconnaissance tools during natural disaster rescue operations. This is a much faster and safer method of mapping an area than sending in rescuers and can be done while rescuers are pre-planning. Drones won’t completely replace manned helicopters, but they are safer, more available and more cost effective. Many drones are outfitted with software and GPS that produces maps and can geo-tag objects within centimeters of their actual location. Many also have thermal sensors, which allow for transmission of key data, and are designed to withstand extreme temperatures. Look for drones to play an increasingly important role in helping rescuers during the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, fires, tornadoes, blizzards and just about any adverse weather event.

Drones are also a great tool for getting a visual on victims at extreme height, such as on towers or tall buildings. Oftentimes these victims are not clearly visible with binoculars, making it difficult to assess their physical condition.

Drones are even being designed specifically for use in confined spaces. Previously, drones were susceptible to damaging crashes from flying in tight spaces. Also, the radio frequencies that control them were often unable to penetrate thick concrete walls. But engineers are addressing these issues and have come up with the Flyability Elios 2, for example, which features a spherical cage to protect the drone from slamming into walls. It also boasts a transmission system capable of working beyond line-of-sight, thus enabling the drone to fly into structures made of concrete, steel, and other materials.

Confined Space Drone

These drones will likely help confined space rescuers in two ways… First and foremost, sending a drone instead of a human into a confined space for an inspection will become the norm, and with fewer humans doing entry work, there will be fewer incidents requiring rescue. Second, when a rescue is called for, a drone can scout the space for a rescuer, provide a visual assessment of the victim and transmit atmospheric data to the rescue team. All of these are invaluable pieces of data that will make the rescue operation safer and more effective.

Portable Powered Winches

One key skill in rope rescue is the ability to build mechanical advantage (MA) systems so that they can efficiently raise / lower / haul weighted objects using rope. I don’t expect this skill to become obsolete, but the use of portable powered winches will make rope rescue less dependent on rescuer-constructed MA systems. Winches have been around for a long time, and are a standard tool for arborists and tower workers, but they haven’t been used much in rescue until recently, as significant improvements in battery power and materials have now made them reliable and durable enough for use with human cargo. Because they are battery powered and compact, they are especially useful when manpower and operating space are limited. They are lightweight and therefore easy to pack and carry as part of a rescue team’s gear cache.

Winch - Atlas APA-5

SkyHook Rescue Systems and Atlas Devices (whose APA-5 is pictured above) are among the leading manufacturers in this space. In the same way that pocket calculators take the legwork out of doing long division, winches make building efficient hauling systems that much faster and easier. That said, there are a few important caveats to consider when thinking about using portable powered winches in rescue operations. Safe use requires rescuers to factor in the weight capacity and to understand proper winch placement in a system like a tripod. Improper placement has the potential to unbalance and tip a tripod. Rescuers also need to know how to rig up a back-up rope system should the main line fail. Finally, the use of powered winches must consider the added risk of injuring the human load or damage to the system components should it become hung up. For these reasons, it is absolutely critical that the rescue load be visible to a dedicated monitor who can call an immediate stop to the haul should the load become hung up. Nonetheless, portable powered winches definitely have the potential to improve and change rope rescue operations, and I expect we’ll be training with them a lot more frequently in the coming decade.

Two-Tension Systems and Team-Style Friction Devices

The use of two-tension systems (sometimes called mirrored systems or dual main systems) is fast becoming a high-interest technique in the rescue world. Why? Since both ropes are tensioned, the load is shared, which decreases the risk of load-induced equipment failure. Also, in a two-tension system, there is no slack in the second line, so the potential free-fall distance is greatly reduced. Additionally, two-tension systems have double the mechanical advantage of traditional systems, making hauling more efficient.

As these two-tension systems become more popular, team-style friction devices (like the Petzl Maestro)Petzl Maestro will be a fixture in a rope rescuer’s toolkit. These are critical components of a two-tension system because they provide the three primary functions two-tensioned systems require – friction control, belay, and haul. By providing two mirrored tensioned systems during a lower, the forces on either of the systems are essentially cut in half. This greatly reduces stress on the system and is more easily managed by the operator working with heavier rescue loads. 3 to 1 Z rig Also, as mentioned previously, using a mirrored 3:1 or 5:1 Z-rig through a Maestro or other similar device during hauling operations will double the mechanical advantage compared to using a single haul system. Applying two 3:1 mirrored MAs results in a 6:1 total MA. This can reduce the manpower required for the haul team, which is beneficial for a variety of reasons.

There exists a healthy debate in the rescue world over the pros and cons of two-tension systems versus more traditional single-main / single-backup systems, but it appears as though two-tension systems are winning the argument and will become the standard in the coming decade. 

Two-tensioned systems hold the advantage in many of the rope rescue operations where dedicated mains / dedicated belays are currently being used. But there are still a few situations where the dedicated main / belay system will remain the best-practice approach. It is important to train with both types to determine what works best for your response area. Two-tensioned systems require a different type of coordination between team members, but they are quickly mastered with practice.

Embrace the Changes Technology Brings Us!

Technological advances are impacting every sector of industry from microprocessors to rescue gear. Precision engineering and advances in materials have made the gear rescuers use today smaller, lighter, smoother, faster and safer than ever. Some advances are incremental, and you only recognize the progress when you look back over a long time-horizon. For example, a retired U.S. Army Ranger recently told me that when he was in Ranger School in the 1960’s, he rappelled off 60-foot towers and the only descent control technology he had was a pair of leather gloves! Clearly, we’ve come a long way since then, and the quality of devices a rescuer can use to safely control their speed during a descent is remarkable. Other technological advances are more immediately impactful and noticeable. Whether it happens slowly or rapidly, we as rescuers have a duty to always be evaluating innovative new equipment and techniques so that we can keep improving the overall effectiveness and safety of rescue operations.

 

About the Author:

Pat Furr is a Corporate Safety Officer, VPP Coordinator, Chief Instructor and technical consultant for Roco Rescue. In addition to penning articles on a variety of safety and technical rescue topics for Roco Rescue's blog, Pat teaches Confined Space Rescue, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Fall Protection programs across the country. He sits on the National Fire Protection Association’s Committee for Technical Rescue and helped author NFPA 1006, which outlines the professional qualifications standard for technical rescue personnel.

A retired U.S. Air Force MSgt/Pararescueman, Pat also helps design innovative equipment that improves safety in the industry, including a Class III rescue harness, a revolutionary fall protection harness, and a specialized anchor hook used for container access operations.

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