Enforcement and Inspection, Personnel Safety

Coworker Saves Two Lives in Confined Space Mishap; Employer Draws $73K Fine

What makes a confined space dangerous? The textbook answer is that it contains some hazard and that it’s difficult to escape. But, as one Garden Grove employer recently learned, a lack of knowledge is also a dangerous—and potentially costly—thing.

Atmospheric hazards in confined spaces are often invisible and may be odorless. So when a worker collapses in a confined space, coworkers may mistakenly believe that their unconscious colleague has had a medical emergency—a heart attack, perhaps. When they enter the space to rescue the downed worker, they discover that the atmosphere is toxic or oxygen-poor, but they usually discover that too late to save themselves.

That’s how confined spaces often claim more than one victim: The initial victim collapses, and would-be rescuers enter the space and are also overcome before anyone realizes that the space itself contains the hazard. This is why Cal/OSHA’s confined space standards require employers to identify hazards in permit-required confined spaces before employees enter them and to train workers in the potential hazards of permit-required confined spaces.

Unfortunately, some employers still have not laid the groundwork for safe confined space entry. One of those employers, Garden Grove-based Kittyhawk, Inc., discovered its failure the hard way.

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