The hazards presented by rescue operations in confined spaces were considered. The number of confined space related fatalities that occur at work in the United States each year, and the number of persons who died attempting rescue were estimated using data from the NIOSH National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities surveillance system and NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program investigations. Death certificates identified 903 deaths in 681 incidents in confined spaces for 1980 through 1988 were studied. About 25% of those who died were attempting rescue. The average victim was 35 years of age with a range of 16 to 86 years. Atmospheric hazards caused 499 of the deaths and mechanical suffocation caused 223. In 584 incidents a single victim died and in 97 incidents multiple fatalities resulted. The manufacturing industry ranked highest in both the number of single and multiple fatality incidents. The NIOSH FACE program investigated 62 incidents in confined spaces with 97 fatalities in this 9 year period. There were 35 persons who died in rescue attempts. All of these, with one exception, were overcome by atmospheric hazards. Of the 35 who died attempting rescue, 31 were coworkers. The authors conclude that a better awareness of confined space hazards is urgently needed. The first step in preventing confined space related fatalities is enabling workers to immediately recognize that an area is a confined space and therefore a potentially deadly one.
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