Iowa OSHA Issues $808,000 Fine Following Des Moines Drownings

Insituform Technologies Inc., Chesterfield, Mo., said the Iowa OSHA issued a citation and notification of penalty in connection with a July 8 accident in Des Moines in which two employees drowned in a Des Moines sewer and five were hospitalized.

IOWA OSHA issued 11 willful citations against the company, and each of those citations carries the maximum $70,000 fine. The Polk County attorney is examining a possible criminal prosecution. The total fine, of $808,250 , is believed to be among the highest ever issued in Iowa.

Iowa OSHA says that Daniel Grasshoff and Brian Burford drowned in more than a foot of watery sewage while working on an older sewer line. Experts believe the workers accidentally released hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of sewage, and collapsed after becoming overcome by the fumes. The other five workers were overcome by the fumes when they tried to rescue Grasshoff and Burford.

According to witnesses, neither Grasshoff or Burford was wearing a respirator or hooked up to any type of rescue line to pull them to safety in the event of an emergency.

According to Mary Bryant, administrator for the state safety regulatory agency, the employees were not properly trained in confined space safety and rescue, adding, "We believe the violations that were found support our belief that they were not adequately trained."

The company issued a statement saying it "intends to continue discussions with Iowa OSHA regarding the accident, the specifics of the citation and the penalties."

Since the July accident, Insituform has taken several actions focused on safety in its Cured-In-Place-Pipe (CIPP) operations. These include a comprehensive review of all aspects of the CIPP confined space entry safety program and a rolling, one-day stand-down of all domestic CIPP operations to review confined space entry safety procedures.

The company insists it has a good safety record, noting that through July 1, its EMR (Experience Modifier Rating - a widely-used indicator of safety performance) was 0.72, which is 28 percent better than the industry average.

Insituform Technologies Inc. offers technologies and services for rehabilitating sewer, water and other underground piping systems.

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