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Sanitation worker dies when rescuing co-worker from underground sewer vault.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
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 91CO074, 1991 Dec; :1-2
A 49-year old employee of a sanitation company died when he was overcome with hydrogen sulfide gas in an underground sewer vault. Two sanitation workers were assigned to clean the vault that served as a junction box for converging sewer lines. Employee #1 entered the vault to scrape a bar screen located at the far end of the vault. The bottom of the vault was covered with approximately two feet of sewage. Shortly after entering the vault employee #1 fell to the ground unconscious. Employee #2 witnessed his co-worker fall out and entered the vault to assist. He was able to revive employee #1 and drag him to the base of the ladder. Employee #1 was then able to exit the vault unassisted. He then checked on employee #2 and observed that he was unconscious. He obtained assistance from a local company in calling 911 and a deputy sheriff, two ambulances, and the local fire department responded. Rescue workers entered the vault and extracted employee #2 and attempted to revive him. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. The workers did not have any personal protective equipment other than gloves and waders. The vault was not tested prior to entry nor was any ventilation supplied. The Colorado Department of Health (CDH) investigator concluded that to prevent future similar occurrences, employers should: 1. Develop and implement a comprehensive written confined space safety program. 2. Provide lifelines and harnesses, and ensure that workers wear them when entering confined spaces. 3. Provide air testing equipment and train employees on the proper use and maintenance of the equipment. 4. Develop, implement, and enforce a written safety policy and safe work procedures designed to help workers recognize, understand and control hazards.
Region-8; Accident-analysis; Accident-prevention; Accidents; Injuries; Injury-prevention; Traumatic-injuries; Work-operations; Work-analysis; Work-areas; Work-performance; Work-practices; Safety-education; Safety-equipment; Safety-measures; Safety-monitoring; Protective-measures; Protective-equipment; Personal-protective-equipment; Protective-equipment; Confined-spaces; Gases; Poison-gases; Maintenance-workers
Publication Date
Document Type
Field Studies; Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation
Funding Type
Cooperative Agreement
Fiscal Year
NTIS Accession No.
NTIS Price
Identifying No.
FACE-91CO074; Cooperative-Agreement-Number-U60-CCU-808518
SIC Code
Source Name
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Performing Organization
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division