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Investigation into two workers' deaths finds US company failed to test oxygen level in confined space

13 December 2022

An investigation by the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has determined that an Arkansas construction contractor failed to test oxygen levels in the confined space before two workers entered a sewer 20 feet below ground at a work site and died because of a lack of oxygen.

During the incident in June 2022, an employee of Belt Construction Inc. climbed into a newly installed sewer manhole to conduct testing when they lost consciousness. Trying to rescue the worker, a second employee followed into the manhole and lost consciousness. Both workers later succumbed to their injuries.

OSHA investigators determined the Texarkana, Arkansas, company did not complete required planning before allowing workers to enter the space. In pre-entry planning, a confined space must be tested for safety, including finding out if ventilation is needed. Belt Construction also failed to provide rescue equipment and did not train workers on confined space entry procedures or obtain permits required by federal law.

OSHA cited the company for six serious and two wilful violations and proposed $287,150 in penalties.

"Two lives were lost – and family, friends and co-workers are left to grieve – because Belt Construction Inc. failed to follow legally required steps designed to prevent a needless incident like this from happening," said OSHA Area Director Steven Kirby in Oklahoma City.

"Employers assigning people to work inside a confined space must comply with safety standards, including providing and ensuring the use of required safety equipment, and obtain all necessary permits before the job starts to avoid tragedy."

In July 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that – from 2011 to 2018 – 1,030 workers died in confined space incidents in the US, 61 of them in sewers, manholes and storm drains.

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