SAFETY MOMENT OF THE WEEK
Three Contract Utility Workers Die in a Confined Space
January 31, 2017
Three contracted utility workers died Monday, January 16th after becoming overwhelmed by gas fumes inside a drainage trench located in a Key Largo subdivision.
The workers, who were employed by a private company, had gone underground to look into a dip in a newly paved Key Largo road.
A Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department firefighter who went underground to their rescue also was overcome by fumes and had to be airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami in serious condition.
Monroe’s 911 dispatch got the emergency call about 8:30 a.m. Rescue workers evacuated people in the immediate area because of a possible gas leak. The trench is in a subdivision on the bayside of mile marker 106 in Key Largo.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said the firefighter decided to enter the hole without his air pack because the hole was not wide enough to fit the man and his equipment.
The county contracted workers were in the 15-foot hole investigating a dip in the road. The gas was a mixture of hydrogen sulfide and methane.
Monroe sheriff's deputies performed CPR on the firefighter until paramedics arrived and took him to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier. The county's Trauma Star helicopter ambulance flew him to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where he is “fighting for his life.”
Drainage holes typically have vents to avoid gas build-ups, and this hole showed no signs of venting.
Detectives will be investigating the deaths. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also conducting an investigation.
Two bodies were recovered Monday morning. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue hazmat units were called in to recover the third man's body.
The workers work for D.N. Higgins, a private contractor with a Florida branch office in Naples, according to Paul Christian, general manager of the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District.
In April, 2002, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection of a Higgins project in a Marco Island manhole resulted in a $2,500 fine that got settled for $1,875.
The citation said, among other violations, that atmospheric testing wasn't performed; a confined space entry program wasn't implemented; confined space entry permits weren't implemented by a qualified person; a rescue plan wasn't implemented; rescue services weren't available in a timely manner; and rescue equipment wasn't available at the site.
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