Belt Construction Inc, a contractor based in Arkansas, has been fined $287,150 after two employees asphyxiated while working in a confined space. One lost consciousness in a sewer 20ft below ground, and a colleague trying to rescue the first suffered the same fate.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) cited the company for six serious and two “willful” violations after it was found that Belt failed to test oxygen levels in the newly installed pipe. OSHA rules require pre-entry planning for a confined space to determine if ventilation is needed.
The company also failed to provide rescue equipment and did not provide appropriate training or obtain permits required by federal law.
Steven Kirby, OSHA’s Oklahoma City director, said: “Two lives were lost – and family, friends and co-workers are left to grieve – because Belt Construction failed to follow legally required steps designed to prevent a needless incident like this from happening.
“Employers assigning people to work inside a confined space must comply with safety standards, including providing and ensuring the use of required safety equipment, and obtain all necessary permits before the job starts.”
The US Bureau of Labour Statistics reports that between 2011 and 2018, 1,030 workers died in confined space incidents, 61 of them in sewers, manholes and storm drains.