A story in the Washington Post was published on January 18, 2017 titled, “One by one, 3 utility workers descended into a manhole. One by one, they died.” We’ve covered this same sort of failing to follow standard workplace safety previously, but in the context of workers’ compensation death cases. Workers killed while on-the-job by sewer gas is by asphyxiation. Let us get our terms straight.

What is sewer gas? Sewer gas is a complex mixture of toxic and nontoxic gases produced and collected in sewage systems by the decomposition of organic household or industrial wastes, typical components of sewage. Sewer gases may include hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methane, esters, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

What is asphyxiation? The process of being deprived of oxygen, which can result in unconsciousness or death; suffocation.

Here is the story headline out of Florida, the link is above.

“Three utility works were killed after being overcome by poisonous fumes in a manhole in Key Largo, Fla. A firefighter who attempted to save the men is in the hospital.”

This job basically was a disaster waiting to happen. The workers violated OSHA rules meant to save their lives and had proper safety rules been followed they likely would still be alive today. Categorically at least two would have survived. Now don’t think, had this happened in Iowa, that the workers’ wives and children would not get benefits, because they would. Even if the worker is negligent, benefits are still paid. Eligibility does not depend on a lack of being negligent.

 “The hole, just wide enough to fit a body, was filled with hydrogen sulfide and methane gas created from years of rotted vegetation, the Miami Herald reported. None of the four men wore masks or carried the air packs that could have likely saved their lives. Moreno descended into the hole without his air tank because he could not fit through the hole with it, according to Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay.”

Utility and construction workers regularly encounter what is known as a confined space hazard. Here is a description from the Communication Workers of America union website.

“The hazards associated with entering and performing work in confined spaces is capable of causing bodily injury, illness, and death to involved workers. CWA members employed as telecommunications cable splicers and outside plant technicians, as well as workers employed within the manufacturing industry, work in confined space environments. Confined spaces are areas that, by design, have limited openings for entry and exit, unfavorable natural ventilation that could contain or produce dangerous air contaminants, and are not intended for continuous worker occupancy. For CWA members, confined space work is done primarily in telecommunications manholes and containers used in manufacturing plants, but may also include crawl spaces, cable vaults, and areas on customer premises and in manufacturing and other work locations that fit the description of a confined space.”

Here is the description of a similar incident as the Florida workers faced, but from 2015.

“BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT. A construction foreman died from asphyxiation after entering a manhole with an uncontrolled hazardous atmosphere. Four construction workers were working in an inactive sewer system on a jobsite that was unoccupied for over a week. A few minutes after they started working, the crew noticed that the foreman was missing and a manhole cover was removed. While one worker called emergency services, a second worker entered the manhole to assist the foreman and found him unresponsive at the bottom of the 20²/³ ft. manhole (see Figures 1 and 2). When the second worker became disoriented inside the manhole, another worker used a fan to blow fresh air into the manhole and the worker was able to climb out. The foreman was retrieved by fire department personnel and was later pronounced dead due to asphyxiation.”

With Congress discussing an infrastructure bill, it is highly likely utility workers will be exposed more often to the risks of on-the-job injuries including those from asphyxiation by sewer gas.

If we can help you with your workers’ compensation case call today.

Additional Information for Utility Worker Work Comp Claims:

  1. Utility Workers Can Die From Sewer Gas Asphyxiation
  2. Construction Site Personal Injury Accidents
  3. Manure pit asphyxiation deaths in Cylinder, Iowa | Lombardi Law Firm
  4. Why is compression asphyxiation in the news about this 3-year-old 
  5. Worker Safety in Iowa - Sodium Hydroxide
Steve Lombardi
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Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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