The California Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) today teamed up with the Los Angeles Fire Department to educate employers and employees on the dangers of working in confined spaces. The news conference included examples of potential hazards and a confined space rescue demonstration by the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Cal/OSHA launched a statewide confined space awareness campaign in February with the goal of helping employers and workers understand the hazards of confined spaces. The campaign was sparked by seven confined space deaths and numerous injuries in 2011 – including several in the greater Los Angeles region – all of which were preventable. Cal/OSHA is taking a comprehensive approach to prevent these deaths and injuries in California through widespread public education and media alerts, enforcement and consultation, and ongoing partnerships to help increase awareness and compliance.
“Today’s event with the Los Angeles Fire Department helps raise awareness of the hazards associated with working in confined space environments and the need for employers to have an effective emergency response plan in place before a critical situation arises,” said DIR Director Christine Baker. “As a national leader in workplace safety, Cal/OSHA is working with labor, employers and public safety officials to eliminate this type of preventable fatality in the workplace.”
“Confined spaces” are enclosed spaces that can be entered by workers, but have limited openings for entry or exit, and are not designed for continuous worker occupancy. Common examples include tanks, silos, pipelines, sewers, storage bins, drain tunnels and vaults. Confined spaces can be found in many industries and also in non-industrial workplaces. For example, the 2011 California deaths occurred in a wide range of industries–a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical facility, a winery, a paint manufacturing plant, and a recycling center.
One of these incidents occurred last January at Baxter Biosciences, a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Los Angeles. A 33-year old technician entered a blood plasma tank to measure its contents when he collapsed in the oxygen deficient atmosphere. Two of his colleagues entered the tank in order to attempt a rescue and collapsed as well. All three workers were extricated from the tank by the Los Angeles Fire Department. The first worker died, the second remains unconscious, and the third was injured but recovered.
Last October, a similar scenario occurred at the Community Recycling & Recovery facility in Lamont, when a 16 year old worker cleaning a drainage tunnel was overcome by hydrogen sulfide gas. Another worker – his brother aged 22- rushed in to save him and was also overcome. Both workers died. Last week, Cal/OSHA levied fines totaling $166,890 for multiple violations of confined space regulations against the employer. Cal/OSHA’s criminal investigation in this case is still ongoing.
“These confined space deaths and serious injuries were all preventable had safety practices been in place. It is even more tragic that in many cases, workers attempting to rescue their co-workers also fall victim,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “Confined spaces can be deceptively dangerous. Employers need to assess if they have such a hazard, identify and mark those spaces, provide employee and supervisor training and on-site rescue plans and equipment.”
“In the last year alone, we have responded to three confined space rescues,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Jack Wise. “It is our experience that the victims, would-be rescuers and co-workers, either fail to adhere to their emergency plans or simply do not have a plan in place, with catastrophic results.”
Joining Cal/OSHA and the L.A. Fire Department at the press conference were Mark Katchen, Managing Principal of the Phylmar Group – a Los Angeles-based environmental health and safety consultancy, and Chuck Meeks, Health and Safety Representative of United Steel Workers Union Local 675.
Working with partners in labor, industry, public safety agencies and other safety and health groups, Cal/OSHA’s year-long campaign will remind Californians that confined spaces, no matter how safe they may seem, pose risks that can be deadly to workers.
Cal/OSHA has posted extensive information about confined space hazards on its website www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/confinedspace . These materials include a webinar for employers and employees on hazards and safe work practices. Cal/OSHA will be providing other training and outreach programs throughout the year to educate employers and employees in hopes of preventing workplace deaths and injuries.
For more help on working safely in confined spaces, contact the Cal/OSHA Consultation Service toll-free at 1-800-963-9424. This service is free and confidential. More information is available online at www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/consultation.html .
Employees with work-related questions or complaints can call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at 1-866-924-9757.
CONTACT:Dean FryerErika Monterroza (510) 286-1161