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Company facing £81,000 fine following confined space fatality

26 March 2024

A US employer's failure to follow federal safety procedures left a 30-year-old worker suffering fatal asphyxiation as they tried to make repairs inside a water tank at a wellsite in Oklahoma City in September 2023, a federal investigation has found.

Responding to the report of a fatality in Purcell, investigators with the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined the worker had entered a permit-required confined space to fix a leaking bulkhead valve in a production tank and then lost consciousness. Two co-workers entered the tank in a failed rescue attempt and suffered effects from exposure to low atmospheric conditions. Neither sustained injuries.

OSHA investigators found the employer, C&M Roustabout Services LLC failed to evaluate the tank for hazardous conditions – including testing the atmosphere – and did not use protective systems to prevent worker injuries, a violation of federal regulations.

"This preventable tragedy must serve as a reminder of the importance of complying with safety and health standards," explained OSHA Area Director Steve Kirby in Oklahoma City. "OSHA has specific requirements for operations such as drilling, servicing and storage to protect people employed in this high-hazard industry. Every employer should make safety and health a core value in their workplaces and ensure their workers are trained properly and provided the required safety equipment."

Further investigation determined the remaining water in the tank contained compounds – including ethyl benzene, xylene, trimethylbenzene, isobutane and other cyclic aliphatic compounds – and atmospheric readings inside showed low oxygen content, volatile organic compounds and carbon dioxide, all of which can lead to asphyxiation.

OSHA issued C&M Roustabout Services 16 serious citations. Of these citations, 13 are related to failures that contributed to the worker's death, including the following:

- Allowing employees to enter a confined space without an atmospheric evaluation or a required permit.
- Not providing flame-resistant personal protective equipment.
- Failing to have testing and ventilation equipment space entry programs in place.
- Not training employees to establish proficiency on confined space hazards.
- Failing to ensure those authorized to enter the space knew the hazards, signs or symptoms of exposure.

The company faces $103,232 (£81,550) in proposed penalties for its violations.

Headquartered in Pauls Valley, C&M has provided roustabout services to Oklahoma's oil industry since 2008. From 2011 to 2018, 1,030 workers in the U.S. died from occupational injuries involving a confined space. The annual figures range from a low of 88 in 2012 to a high of 166 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 70 workers died on the job in 2022 in Oklahoma, including 18 in the construction and extraction industries.

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