Following the tragic deaths of three employees of a utility contractor in South Florida in January, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the company with fines totaling almost $120,000 for 10 serious violations. An OSHA director said the hazards of working in confined spaces are well known, and so should the related safety regulations be. The deceased employees’ families will be entitled to seek death benefits through the workers’ compensation insurance system.

On that fateful day, a 34-year-old utility worker entered the confined space of the manhole to lay some pipes, but he became unresponsive within minutes. A 49-year-old worker was concerned and followed his co-worked to check on him, and when he was also unresponsive, a 24-year-old colleague entered the same manhole to revive them. None of the men came out of that confined space alive.

A rescue attempt was launched during which a volunteer firefighter and two more utility workers also suffered exposure to toxic gases, but they survived. Atmospheric tests in the space after the incident revealed the presence of deadly levels of carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. If those tests were done before the men entered the manhole, steps could have been taken to make it safe.

The OSHA director called these fatalities needless, saying the employer’s disregard of safety regulations was to blame. When Florida families lose loved ones under similar circumstances, they might have viable wrongful death claims that could be filed simultaneously with workers’ compensation survivors’ benefits claims. Those who consider taking such steps may be wise to seek the opinion of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to check the viability of civil lawsuits and for valuable support and guidance throughout any legal proceedings.

Source: safety.blr.com, “3 lives ‘needlessly lost’ in confined space tragedy“, July 21, 2017