Small Mistakes Can Lead to Big Safety Problems

In the wastewater industry, fatalities are rare. However, they still do occur every year across the United States. An investigation of what went wrong in many of these cases reveals a pattern: It’s not just one thing that leads to a worker’s death. Usually, there are a number of factors involved.

For example, in 2013 a construction worker in Chicago died in a worksite accident in a sewer. Mr. Briceno was installing plastic lining in the sewer with his coworker when a torrential rainstorm began. Instead of stopping work, the team continued. When Briceno came upon a confined space, he removed his safety harness so that he could enter it. The sewer was flooded suddenly with rushing water and he was swept away to his death. His body was recovered a block away.

Here are just a few of the factors that may have contributed to the accident, and how it might have been avoided:

The hazards weren’t appropriately identified. A thorough worksite survey would have revealed the fact that the team couldn’t install the lining without entering the confined space and removing safety gear. This additional hazard should have prompted several steps:

  1. A review of proper procedures for confined space entry
  2. The provision of alternative safety equipment
  3. The placement of a trained rescue team on standby

There should have been a backup plan in place to ensure worker safety in the confined space and guarantee that he could be retrieved swiftly in an emergency. A fatal drowning can occur in just a few minutes.

A change in weather conditions apparently wasn’t taken into account during the job. The construction company confirmed that they usually do not have teams working in the sewers during severe weather, but they did not say why this crew continued to work once the conditions became hazardous. A safety plan should include ways to secure and shut down operations and remove workers from the site promptly when flooding may occur.

Every Safety Measure Counts

There’s a reason OSHA has so many layers of regulations in place to protect workers from harm. There are supposed to be redundancies in case one safety mechanism fails. Unfortunately, this can lead some employers, supervisors, or employees into assuming that just breaking one rule here and there can’t possibly cause an accident. When this happens often enough, the holes in a safety plan become big enough for a worker to slip through.

Is your safety plan watertight? Has it been compromised? Contact us for a consultation to make sure there are no gaps in your OSHA compliance.