On Dec. 22, 2018, two plumbers working in a crawl space replacing underground sewer pipes at the San Francisco International Airport.
The workers were using a gasoline-powered saw to cut through concrete when they were overcome by carbon monoxide gas emitted from the equipment, causing one of the workers to lose consciousness. Emergency crews assisted the plumbers, one of whom was hospitalized for two days.
Cal/OSHA immediately opened an investigation and cited two employers for serious accident-related health and safety violations as a result.
“These workers were fortunate because performing work in confined spaces can be deadly, especially when oxygen levels are reduced or when deadly gases are present,” said Cal/OSHA Deputy Chief of Enforcement Debra Lee, in a statement. “Employers must identify and evaluate potential hazards before workers enter confined spaces so they can ensure workers are trained and a rescue plan is in place in case of emergency.”
The state-run agency discovered that Gate Gourmet, Inc. did not inform Gladiator Rooter & Plumbing that the crawl space was a permit-required confined space, and did not provide information on the potential hazards posed by entering the space. Cal/OSHA also found that Gladiator Rooter & Plumbing did not have a safety and health program and did not train workers. In addition, the employer did not develop a confined space program, take steps to mitigate the hazards and did not have a rescue plan.
Cal/OSHA cited Gladiator Rooter & Plumbing $50,850 for eight violations, including two serious accident-related, two serious and four general in nature.
The company failed to implement a permit-required confined space program and it did not train its employees on working safely in confined spaces. The serious violations were for Gladiator's failure to develop and implement a written permit space program and failure to obtain information about permit space hazard and provide that information to the workers entering the space.
Gate Gourmet racked up $18,000 in proposed penalties for one serious accident-related violation for failing to communicate with Gladiator Rooter & Plumbing about confined space hazards and precautions.
A violation is classified as serious when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation, and violations are classified as accident-related when the injury, illness or fatality is caused by the violation.
Confined spaces are defined as large enough for workers to enter, but have limited openings for exit and entry, with 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.