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OSHA cites contractor after three employees die in toxic manhole

Posted On: Jul. 19, 2017 3:01 PM CST

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 10 serious violations with total proposed penalties of $119,507 after three employees of a Michigan general contractor died from exposure to toxic gases in a manhole at a Florida worksite in January.

A 34-year-old pipe layer entered the manhole and quickly became unresponsive. A 49-year-old laborer and a 24-year-old equipment operator followed in a rescue attempt. All three men died in the incident, according to the statement issued Tuesday by OSHA.

Post-incident atmospheric testing revealed lethal levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide in the manhole. Two other employees and a volunteer firefighter were also exposed to the toxic gases during the rescue attempt but survived, according to the statement.

OSHA issued incident-related citations to Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Douglas N. Higgins Inc. and its related contracting company McKenna Contracting L.L.C. for failing to purge or ventilate a confined space before entry, exposing workers to an asphyxiation hazard and not providing necessary rescue and emergency equipment for employees overcome inside a permit-required confined space.

Other serious violations included failing to develop a written hazard communication program for a worksite where employees are exposed to dangerous chemicals and gases, failing to use a calibrated direct-reading device to test for toxic gases, failing to create and document the confined space entry permit and failing to provide adequate training to employees.

“The hazards of working in manholes are well established, but there are ways to make it safe,” Condell Eastmond, OSHA area director in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said in a statement. “Three employees needlessly lost their lives and others were injured due to their employer’s failure to follow safe work practices.”

Representatives for Douglas N. Higgins Inc. were not immediately available to comment.