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Three sanitation workers and one policeman die in an underground sewage pumping station in Kentucky, July 5, 1985.

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 85-31, 1985 Jul; :1-5
One July 5, 1985, one police officer and two sewer workers died in an attempt to rescue a third sewer worker, who had been overcome by sewer gas at the bottom of an underground pumping station. All four persons died in this accident. On the day of the accident two sewer workers entered the 50 foot deep underground pumping station through a metal shaft on a fixed ladder. The ventilation system was not working. Neither worker was wearing protective equipment or clothing. The two workers removed the bolts of an inspection plate from a check valve. When the plate blew off, raw sewage flooded the chamber, overwhelming one of the workers. The second worker escaped and radioed for help, but again entered the station and was also overcome. A police officer responding to the call entered the station, and later the sewage systems field manager entered the station. A fireman wearing a self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) was unable to locate any of the four men. Sewage had completely flooded the underground room. A second fireman entered the shaft wearing a SCBA, but slipped from the ladder and became wedged in the shaft. He was extricated after 30 minutes. Professional divers removed the bodies. A considerable amount of sewage was found in the lungs of the sewer workers at autopsy. It is recommended that employers should develop proper work procedures and should adequately train employees to maintain and repair the sewage system; confined space entry procedures should be developed. Those responsible for emergency rescue should be trained for confined space rescue.
NIOSH-Author; Region-4; FACE-85-31; Organic-vapors; Sewer-cleaning; Sewage-industry; Confined-spaces; Toxic-gases; Rescue-workers; Policemen
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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