Construction Worker’s Death in Manhole Leads to $136K Penalty

OSHA has cited Matula & Matula Construction Inc. of Lake Jackson, Texas, for workplace safety and health violations following the death of an employee who was working inside a sanitary sewer manhole. Proposed penalties total $136,000.

"This company exposed its workers to hazardous atmospheres while they were working in sanitary sewers," said Mark Briggs, OSHA's director for its Houston South Area Office in Texas. "It is critical that procedures for safe confined space entry are utilized each time a worker enters a confined space."

OSHA issued citations alleging two willful, three serious, and two repeat violations following an investigation that began Feb. 8, when a worker who was pumping grout into the sewer line on the Highway 332 Utility Relocation Project in Lake Jackson was overcome by hydrogen sulfide.

The willful violations are for failing to implement confined space entry procedures, including testing, ventilation and rescue, and to train employees on the hazards of working in a confined space. OSHA issues a willful citation when an employer exhibits plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

Serious violations include failing to train employees about the danger of working with hazardous chemicals in the workplace, and to inspect, properly maintain, and repair damaged ladders. A serious violation is one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The repeat violations are for failing to make a reasonable estimate of employee exposure to hazardous chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide, and to properly erect a ladder for use in accessing the sanitary sewer manhole. OSHA issues repeat violations when an employer previously has been cited for the same or substantially similar violations in the past three years, and those citations have become a final order.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in Houston, or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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