3 Confined Space Deaths Lead to Fines

OSHA has completed inspections prompted by a June 29, 2009, triple fatality at a recycling facility in Jamaica, N.Y. An employee of S. Dahan Piping and Heating Co., of South Ozone, N.Y., was fatally overcome by hydrogen sulfide gas while cleaning a dry well at Regal Recycling Co. Inc. The owner of S. Dahan Piping and Heating, who was also the worker's father, and a Regal Recycling employee also succumbed while trying to rescue him from the dry well.

OSHA's inspection found that S. Dahan Piping should have monitored the air quality in the dry well to determine if there was a lack of oxygen or the presence of another breathing hazard before any of its employees entered the dry well to perform their duties. If a hazard was found, protective measures would need to have been implemented prior to employee entry. OSHA defines a confined space as a space that has limited or restricted access of entry or exit, is large enough for a worker to enter and work in, but is not designed for continuous occupancy. The agency noted that Regal Recycling failed to post signs warning its employees of hazards that may be present in a confined space, such as the dry well.

"Unfortunately, this incident was a classic example of a multiple-fatality event where would-be rescuers are themselves overcome in their attempt to save the initial victim," said Kay Gee, OSHA's area director for Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. "Many deaths in confined spaces occur because people who are attempting to rescue someone else are neither trained nor equipped to do so."

As a result of its findings, OSHA has issued four serious citations to S. Dahan Piping for the confined-space hazards and for not having a respiratory-protection program.

"This family has already paid an incalculable price with the loss of two of its loved ones," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York. "Nothing can restore their lives, but it is our hope that employers will heed these findings and take effective action to prevent future confined-space tragedies."

The agency issued Regal Recycling one serious citation for the absence of warning signs and for failure to abate notices for not correcting unrelated respiratory protection and guardrail hazards cited after a January 2009 OSHA inspection. Regal Recycling faces a total of $79,000 in fines.

OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known. Failure-to-abate citations are issued when an employer does not correct specific hazards cited in a previous OSHA inspection.

Detailed information on confined-space hazards and safeguards is available online at www.osha.gov/SLTC/confinedspaces/index.html.

Both companies have 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA, or contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The inspection was conducted by OSHA's Queens District Office in Little Neck, N.Y.

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