Ehstoday 3079 Confinedspace

Flash Fire in Confined Space Prompts Cal/OSHA Citation

July 1, 2014
Industrial-service provider Shar-Craft Inc. is facing $82,090 in Cal/OSHA fines stemming from the agency’s investigation into a flash fire that burned an industrial painter inside a metal tank.

Industrial-service provider Shar-Craft Inc. is facing $82,090 in Cal/OSHA fines stemming from the agency’s investigation into a flash fire that burned an industrial painter inside a metal tank.  

On Dec. 17, 2013, the worker was spraying a flammable coating on the inside walls of a large steel tank when a fire was ignited by a portable halogen light. The 37-year-old man was rescued but spent three days in the burn unit at San Joaquin Community Hospital.

“This was a preventable accident,” said Christine Baker, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. “The employer was aware that working inside the confined space was dangerous but did not take the required steps to avoid putting workers at serious risk.”

Cal/OSHA cited the company for these and other alleged violations:

  • Knowingly using an unauthorized electric lamp while the painter was working in an explosive atmosphere.
  • Not having a permit to work in a confined space.
  • Not having the proper ventilation or protective equipment for such a hazardous space.

Cal/OSHA cited the Shafter, Calif.-based company for one willful serious-accident-related violation and three serious violations related to the lack of a required-entry permit for confined spaces, lack of proper equipment and inadequate training for employees working in the tank.  

The agency issued 12 additional citations for a range of general violations, including failure to report a serious work-related injury within eight hours of the accident (which was reported four days later).  

“The purpose of requiring confined-space entry permits is to prevent trouble before work begins,” said Cal/OSHA Acting Chief Juliann Sum. “This case involved flammable vapors that needed to be monitored and diluted to safe levels, and a lamp approved for this type of operation was required to avoid bringing a source of ignition into a flammable atmosphere.”  

Confined spaces are defined as large enough for workers to enter, but with limited openings for exit and entry, posing a potential for hazards related to the atmosphere and space. They are found in multiple industries, and include water and sewer pipes, boilers, silos, kilns, vaults, tunnels and pumping stations.

In 2011, there were seven confined space fatalities in California. One fatality and two injuries resulted from attempted rescues.

In response, Cal/OSHA launched a confined-space emphasis program in 2012 to raise awareness of these hazards and ensure that employers follow proper safeguards. The safety program includes training in identifying hazards, creating a safety plan and rescue procedures. 

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