California's branch of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has long warned contractors about the dangers of sending workers into confined spaces without proper permits and safety precautions. Construction workers' accidents in confined spaces frequently make for difficult rescue operations because there is often only one opening. The main concern for workers in confined spaces is the risk of air contamination because of poor ventilation.
Recently, a man working for a subcontractor died at a construction site after he was sent into a drainage shaft to remove mud and debris for the installation of concrete posts called caissons. The man entered the shaft in a bucket attached to a small crane. Ten feet into the shaft, the worker lost consciousness because of the lack of oxygen. He fell 40 feet to the bottom of the shaft and drowned in 12 inches of water before rescuers could reach him.
The man was wearing no fall protection, and the shaft had not been permitted, meaning the subcontractor had not tested the environment to determine if additional safety equipment was needed. The subcontractor was fined over $300,000 for 13 willful, serious and general violations. However, this did not relieve the general contractor of responsibility for making sure the subcontractors complied with rules for employees in confined spaces. In fact, Cal/OSHA cited the contractor for five violations totalling almost $15,000 in fines.
Meanwhile, the family of the deceased employee must cope with their loss. While improvements are made on California job sites and through new educational programs, they come too late for the worker and his loved ones. Families who lose loved ones in construction workers' accidents have the right to death benefits through workers' compensation. Although claiming those benefits may be complicated, having an attorney to assist often makes the process less stressful and more efficient.
Source: ohsonline.com, "Two Companies Fined for California Confined Space Fatality", May 15, 2017