Asphyxiation Accident on Construction Site
Case Synopsis: Two construction workers were retrieved unconscious from a sanitary sewer manhole. They were assigned to prepare the sanitary sewer manhole for construction specification compliance testing. Both men succumbed to asphyxiation, a result of entering this manhole, the atmosphere of which had a severely depleted level of oxygen and contained a high concentration of CO2, according to subsequent testing. The contractor was cited by OSHA for workplace safety violations. The manufacturer and supplier of the manhole components was named a 3rd party co-defendant in the ensuing litigation.
Expert Analysis: The contractor had little experience in sewer construction and pertinent OSHA regulations for provision of a safe workplace. With the exception of attendance of a trenching and shoring seminar, formal training of the employees did not occur. The trenching and shoring seminar was given by a professional safety training provider but provided erroneous information on the classification of “new work to be tied in” as a “non-permit required space,” thus misleading attendants about the atmospheric hazards of entering a manhole. Additionally, the contractor did not have a competent person on-site; nor adequate equipment for a confined space entry; nor was a confined space entry permit program in place. The manufacturer of the precast concrete manhole supplied components to be assembled by the contractor. His product met the prescribed construction and performance specifications, industry standards and owner approved shop drawing instructions. The manufacturer was not a site contractor and had neither the duty nor the authority to manage site safety, including proper confined space entry. One of the plaintiff’s experts concluded that the accident could have been prevented if the manhole manufacturer had provided warning labels with the supplied manhole components. The effectiveness of warning labels is inconclusive as they often fail to work and there is no proof that they actually reduce accidents.
Conclusion: Case settled with 3rd party defendant.