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One dead, one near miss in sewer in Kentucky, May 15, 1987.

Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE 87-45, 1987 Jun; :1-5
Two laborers were overcome, one fatally, after entering a 15 foot deep sewer manhole in which there was an oxygen deficient atmosphere. The surviving worker revived and was treated and released from hospital. Their purpose for entering the sewer was to clean out a blockage in a sewer manhole adjacent to a sewage lift station. The sewer department, of which the victim was an employee, had no written safety policies or confined space entry procedures. Safety on the job was of an informal nature. The two men were to go to the location of the blockage with the sewer cleaning machine and await arrival of engineering department workers. The victim removed the manhole cover and noted two boards stuck in the sludge. He descended into the untested atmosphere to remove the boards. His coworker noticed that the victim had entered the hole and observed him having difficulty and loosing consciousness. The coworker reported the trouble, and was told not to enter the hole in a rescue attempt. He did enter, however, and was also overcome. The victim had fallen face down in the sludge, while his coworker fell backwards. The engineering crew arrived and evacuated air out of the manhole with a vacuum system, which caused fresh air to flow in. The coworker revived. The victim was pronounced dead due to prolonged acute exposure to sewer gas and aspiration of foreign material. It is recommended that the employer develop a comprehensive safety program for entry into confined spaces.
NIOSH-Author; FACE-87-45; Region-4; Sewer-cleaning; Sewage-treatment; Accident-analysis; Sewage-industry; Accident-prevention; Safety-practices; Hypoxia
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Field Studies; Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation
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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division