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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

Additional Resources

 

 

Roco Receives Platinum Safety Award

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

PlatinumMedal2021Lexington, MA: ConstructSecure, Inc., a cloud-based mobile platform that empowers clients to make smarter risk management decisions, has announced the recipients of its prestigious safety awards. Roco Rescue Inc. has received the Platinum Safety Award. This award is presented to companies that register a safety score 95% or greater in the Safety Assessment Program administered by ConstructSecure.

“Platinum status is not easily achieved. Roco Rescue Inc. has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to implementing safety management systems resulting in exceptionally low incident rates,” states Garrett Burke, CEO of ConstructSecure.

(View Official Press Release: View PDF)

The Safety Assessment Program reviewed Roco Rescue's historic safety performance as well as our safety management program and systems. As an OSHA VPP Star worksite, Roco Rescue incorporates safety into everything we do.

Roco Rescue VPP Elements

Additional Resources

 

 

Is OSHA VPP a Good Fit for Your Company?

Thursday, August 12, 2021

VPP-logoThe short answer…. of course, it is! Whether you are a large company or a small company (like ours), we have experienced that VPP can be a “win-win-win” for all who participate. The collaboration between employers, employees, and OSHA is one of the most refreshing aspects of VPP participation.


By bringing those three groups together to determine any areas that can enhance worker safety, and do so with a team spirit, is not only effective but also goes a very long way in building a trusting rapport.

It’s important to note that OSHA VPP is a voluntary program, and that is the first hint that the entire process is based on a triad of cooperation and support. Therefore, with the VPP process, the first thing you need to remember is that OSHA is here to help you. No, really…in our VPP experience, there has been one example after another of OSHA representatives being very helpful and supportive throughout the process. Ultimately, this has created a safer workplace and enhanced the safety culture of our company. More on that in a bit.

No doubt, there’s a lot of upfront effort in preparing for your first onsite VPP audit. OSHA realizes that the initial onsite audit and the self-evaluation package are not easy or quick “blink-of-the-eye” efforts. However, OSHA makes it less daunting by helping to arrange for a “mentor VPP company” to assist new applicant companies. These VPP volunteers act as mentors throughout the preparation process.

Roco Rescue VPP Elements

For starters, any company seeking entry into the VPP program must have a very safe OSHA-compliant workplace with all the programs expected of VPP in place. The applicant must be able to demonstrate compliance with the four main VPP Elements and all the sub-elements, which are quite extensive. In addition, continuous safety improvement is a never-ending focus with VPP.Download the Roco Rescue Safety Improvement Cycle Poster

To address all VPP elements and sub-elements takes a fair amount of effort and understanding of how best to put into words a narrative description of your safety and health programs. Then, you must be able to tie it to the documentation that backs it up. There is a high potential for a shortfall or disconnect between what OSHA is looking for and what you think they are looking for, and that happened to us on our first audit. It wasn’t a major factor, but it was enough to cause the audit team to call a time out on the process and give us some appropriate guidance and time to revise that particular sub-element to meet the requirements of the program. It was more a matter of semantics than execution, but the point is, the OSHA team cooperated with, and supported us. Ultimately, we were awarded our VPP Star status at the conclusion of that audit.

Earlier I referred to a triad of cooperation and support, but all I have mentioned so far is OSHA and the employer. So, who makes up the third point of the triad? That would be the employees. The four elements of VPP are very clear – not only is management leadership a very big part of the program, but as importantly, so is employee involvement – the third point of the triad!

We’ve found that one of the greatest benefits of participating in the VPP program is how it gets all the employees involved. For a safety culture to evolve in a workplace, it is an absolute must that the employees have a stake in their own safety and the safety of others around them. To have any feeling of ownership, or having a stake in the success of the program, employees must not only feel that their input matters, but the program must include employee input not just as a mindset, but that it is demonstrable through documentation.

One of the most beneficial outcomes of employee involvement is the development of programs that don’t just sound good on paper, but actually work in application.

By asking employees for their ideas on how best to make their area not only meet the requirements of the program, but to make it a usable, and most importantly an effective tool or strategy – and who better to hear this from than the person(s) that will be implementing the tool? By allowing the employees to come up with solutions for providing for their own safety in concert with management support and leadership, we are finding that the safety culture, as well as the overall safety of the workplace, has been greatly enhanced.

So how does participation in the VPP program help you as a company? Out of all the programs, growth, changes, new classes, equipment, facility additions and other significant events that I have witnessed over the past 20+ years with Roco Rescue, the teamwork and communication between employees and management was never as dynamic as it has been due to our participation in VPP.

The VPP flag flying at the Roco Rescue Training Center.
The VPP flag proudly displayed at the Roco Rescue Training Center adds emphasis to our company motto, “There’s a safe way and a SAFER way!”

Roco has always placed safety first and our motto, “There’s a Safe Way, and a Safer Way!” has always rung true in our day-to-day business. But even with such a strong record of safety before VPP, it is clear that our workplace safety has gotten much stronger and that is due primarily to our work with OSHA VPP. The program has provided the tool for our management team; and, most importantly, our employees to develop new and safer practices and programs.

I mentioned VPP being a win-win-win situation earlier. I think it is clear how the employer and employees benefit from participation in VPP, but one of the benefits to OSHA is witnessing innovative safety practices and how those practices result in measurable safety benefits. To illustrate this, I want to share a story from one of the onsite VPP evaluations I assisted with as an SGE.

During the visit, the OSHA evaluation team learned of a monitoring program for companies that use forklifts and lift trucks as part of their daily activities. This monitoring system consisted of hardware and software that monitors vehicle speed, any impacts in a selectable value or G force, maintenance and inspection status, and other criteria. The company had seen a 90% reduction in the costs associated with forklift and lift truck maintenance and materiel damage associated with these types of operations. This reduction does not include any costs that would be a result of injury or fatality. The overall reduction in over-speed and impact incidents should directly correlate with any injury or fatality potential. This is an example of an OSHA benefit in collecting best-known practices (BKM) and sharing that BKM with other companies.

Now all this being said, it is by no means a given that simply applying for OSHA VPP participation and undergoing an onsite evaluation will result in your company receiving recognition in any of the three VPP programs – Star, Merit, or Demonstration. But remember, VPP is a cooperative effort, and this means that any shortfalls in your safety program or performance will be clearly identified.

Written evaluation reports will be given that provide a great roadmap to help you not only make corrections to achieve VPP recognition, but most importantly to provide a safer, healthier, and ultimately a more profitable workplace.

So, is the OSHA VPP program a good fit for your company? From our experience, we feel very strongly that it is a good fit for any company. In addition, there are many more benefits to participation in VPP than what we covered in this article including preferred consideration by clients who also value a safety focus. However, for Roco, the most important has been the enhanced safety throughout our operations and the companywide buy-in from our employees and support from management.

HERE'S MORE...

What is VPP?

The OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) promotes effective worksite-based safety and health. In the VPP, management, labor, and OSHA establish cooperative relationships at workplaces that have implemented a comprehensive safety and health management system. Approval into VPP is OSHA’s official recognition of the outstanding efforts of employers and employees who have achieved exemplary occupational safety and health.

How Has VPP Improved Worker Safety & Health?

Statistical evidence for VPP’s success is impressive. The average VPP worksite has a Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) case rate of 52% below the average for its industry. These sites typically do not start out with such low rates. Reductions in injuries and illnesses begin when the site commits to the VPP approach to safety and health management and the challenging VPP application process.

How Does VPP Benefit Employers?

Fewer injuries and illnesses mean greater profits as workers’ compensation premiums and other costs plummet. Entire industries benefit as VPP sites evolve into models of excellence and influence practices industry-wide.

How Can I Get More Information?

For more information, visit https://www.osha.gov/vpp or download Roco's Continuous Safety Improvement Cycle poster with details about each of the four elements of VPP.

About the Author: Pat Furr has recently retired from Roco and is currently “living the dream” in New Hampshire. He was a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator, and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco for many years. As a chief instructor, he taught a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he was involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, Pat served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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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