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Silver Creek Plumbing Contractor Faces Safety Citations After Employee Tragedy

A plumbing contractor in Silver Creek, Georgia, has been cited by the US Department of Labor following the fatal fall of a 34-year-old employee in June 2023. The investigation conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that K&D Plumbing Inc. failed to implement the necessary safety procedures, which could have prevented the incident at a work site in Rome.

The Incident

According to OSHA, a three-person work crew from K&D Plumbing Inc. was replacing a sewer line at Armuchee High School when they encountered a blockage in a pipe. To clear the blockage, one worker entered a manhole near the end of a 60-foot-long trench. Unfortunately, the worker fell about 20 feet, resulting in fatal injuries from the fall and subsequent exposure to a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide gas.

The Rome Fire Department conducted tests inside the manhole and discovered a concentration of hydrogen sulfide at 1,910 parts per million. The permissible exposure limit for hydrogen sulfide set by OSHA is only 20 ppm, making the concentration inside the manhole extremely dangerous.

Citations and Penalties

OSHA cited K&D Plumbing Inc. for several violations, including the failure to develop and implement a permit-required confined space entry program. The agency also found the company in violation of not providing ladders or other means of safe egress from the trench, as well as failing to implement protections or controls for water accumulation inside the trench.

The employer also neglected to have a competent person inspect the trench prior to workers entering and did not ensure that excavated soil and uninstalled piping were stored at a safe distance from the trench edge.

As a result of these violations, OSHA has proposed $184,387 in penalties for K&D Plumbing Inc.

Implementing Safety Measures

This tragic incident serves as a reminder of the importance of implementing proper safety measures in the workplace. Employers should prioritize the following steps to ensure the safety of their workers:

1. Develop a Permit-Required Confined Space Entry Program

Employers must have a written program in place for working in confined spaces, such as manholes or trenches. This program should include testing the space for hazardous gases, ventilating the area, and ensuring workers are trained on the specific hazards and safety procedures.

2. Provide Safe Means of Egress

It is essential to provide ladders or other safe means of egress for workers inside trenches. This ensures that they can exit the trench quickly and safely in case of an emergency.

3. Implement Protections for Water Accumulation

Water accumulation inside a trench can lead to dangerous conditions, including the risk of drowning. Employers should implement protections or controls to prevent water from accumulating and ensure workers’ safety.

4. Conduct Regular Inspections

Before allowing workers to enter a trench or confined space, a competent person should inspect the area for any potential hazards. This includes checking for stability, loose soil, and other dangers that could pose a risk to workers.

5. Store Excavated Soil and Piping Safely

Excavated soil and uninstalled piping should be stored at least two feet away from the trench edge to prevent them from rolling back inside and potentially striking workers. This simple precaution can help avoid serious injuries.

By implementing these safety measures, employers can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and create a safer work environment for their employees.

Enhanced Nationwide Enforcement

OSHA has announced enhanced nationwide enforcement and additional oversight as part of its national emphasis program on preventing injuries related to trenching and excavation collapses. Trenching and excavations are considered among the industry’s most dangerous hazards, with 40 construction workers suffering fatal injuries from unsafe trenching and excavations in 2022.

Employers are encouraged to visit OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage for more information on hazards and solutions. The webpage also provides a helpful video on tips for safe excavations.

If employers need assistance with OSHA compliance, they can reach out to the agency for access to compliance assistance resources and free help in complying with OSHA standards.

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