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OSHA Warns of Engulfment Hazards

Friday, March 03, 2017

As shown in this photo, an engulfment scenario was featured at last year's Rescue Challenge. Be aware...it only takes 5 seconds for flowing grain (or other product) to engulf and trap a worker.

In 60 seconds, the worker is submerged and is in serious danger of death by suffocation. More than half of all workers engulfed die this way. Many others suffer permanent disability.

OSHA has recently issued further warnings on the dangers of working in grain or bulk storage facilities.

An "engulfment" often happens when "bridged" grain and vertical piles of stored grain collapse unexpectedly. Engulfments may occur when employees work on or near the pile or when bin augers whirl causing the grain to buckle and fall onto the worker. The density, weight and unpredictable behavior of flowing grains make it nearly impossible for workers to rescue themselves without help.

"Far too many preventable incidents continue to occur in the grain-handling industry," said Kim Stille, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City. "Every employee working in the grain industry must be trained on grain-handling hazards and given the tools to ensure they do not enter a bin or silo without required safety equipment. They must also take all necessary precautions - this includes using lifelines, testing the atmosphere inside a bin and turning off and locking out all powered equipment to prevent restarting before entering grain storage structures."




In 2016, OSHA has opened investigations of the following grain industry fatalities and incidents:

• March 16, 2016: A 42-year-old superintendent at Cooperative Producers Inc.'s Hayland grain-handling site in Prosser, Nebraska, suffered fatal injuries caused by an operating auger as he drew grain from a bin. OSHA cited the company on Sept. 9, 2016, for three egregious willful and three serious violations and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The company has contested those citations. See news release here.
• March 22, 2016: A 21-year-old worker found himself trapped in a soybean bin, but escaped serious injury at The Farmer's Cooperative Association in Conway Springs, Kansas. Rescue crews were able to remove the worker and he was treated and released at a local hospital. On June 2, 2016, OSHA cited the company for 13 serious violations. See citations here.
• March 25, 2016: A 51-year-old employee was trapped in a grain bin at McPherson County Feeders in Marquette, Kansas. Emergency crews were able to rescue him. OSHA cited the company for four serious violations on April 14, 2016. See citations here.
• May 19, 2016: A 53-year-old male employee at Prinz Grain and Feed suffered severe injuries on May 18, 2016, as he worked in a grain bin in West Point, Nebraska. The maintenance worker was in a grain bin when a wall of corn product collapsed and engulfed him. He died of his injuries two days later.
• Sept. 1, 2016: A 59-year-old employee suffered severe injuries to his leg when the sweep auger inside a bin at Trotter Grain in Litchfield, Nebraska, caught his coveralls.
• Sept. 19, 2016: A 28-year-old employee of the Ellsworth Co-Op in Ellsworth, Kansas, had his left leg amputated when he stepped into an open auger well inside a grain bin while the auger was running.

"It is vital that we work with leaders, farmers and those employed in the grain and feed industry to increase awareness of hazards in the grain industry and discuss ways to protect workers on the job," stated an Omaha OSHA official.

We add that it’s critically important for emergency responders to be aware of the dangers they may face in bulk storage facilities. In addition to engulfment, there’s also the risk of dust explosions as well as entrapment from moving mechanical equipment.


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Follow Up to CS Deaths in Key Largo, FL

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

By Josh (JC) Hill, Roco Technical Equipment Manager & Chief Instructor

As mentioned in our original story, the alarming statistic of confined space fatalities still proves to be accurate – approximately 60% of fatalities in multi-casualty incidents are the “would be rescuers.” In January, it happened once again. Four construction workers had entered a drainage manhole to determine why the newly paved road was settling in that location.

Upon entering the space, which is believed to have been done without initial monitoring or ventilation, the worker collapsed. As is seen much too often, a second worker entered the space to assist the downed worker and was rendered unconscious. A third worker entered the space and again succumbed to the atmosphere.

The 911 system was activated and responders from the Key Largo VFD arrived at the scene and prepared to enter the space to perform rescue. Initial reports state that a volunteer firefighter donned an SCBA for respiratory protection and attempted to enter the manhole. He found the space to be too confining and removed his SCBA to make entry. He was in the space for approximately 20 seconds prior to being overtaken by the atmosphere. Note: It is our understanding that proper monitoring of the confined space had still not occurred at the time of the firefighter’s entry to attempt rescue.

Another firefighter then entered the space and recovered the first firefighter from the deadly space. Medical attention was provided until he was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. The Miami-Dade County Haz-Mat Team was also called to the scene.

After proper monitoring of the space, it was determined that rescue was no longer a viable option and that the scene would be transitioned to recovery efforts. The testing of atmospheric conditions showed the space contained significant levels of hydrogen sulfide and methane gas with decreased levels of oxygen.

Although original reports did not give indication of toxic gases, the signs surrounding the events make it obvious that the potential was there. To have several workers enter a space like this and rendered unconscious in short periods of time is a classic scenario involving atmospheric hazards. This combined with several statements from neighbors that the area smelled of “rotten eggs” for months provide significant clues to atmosphere being a significant contributing factor to the emergency.

So, why do these confined spaces incidents continue to occur across the nation with emergency responders?

When you break it down, the reasons are fairly simplistic and very alarming. Most citizens have a misconception of fire departments and emergency responders. Most often, it is assumed that if you call the fire department, whether in a large municipality or small township, the personnel responding will be qualified and equipped to perform any task needed.

Fact is the vast majority of fire departments are trained and equipped to perform basic first aid and life support along with standard firefighting operations.
Funding has and will continue to be the major handicapping factor that limits the capabilities of these agencies. Unfortunately, it usually takes a catastrophic event before funding is provided.

Also, unless dedicated specialty teams are established, it is practically impossible for agencies to train each individual to a proficient level for technical rescue and hazardous material response and have them maintain this level without regular, on-going training. It is also unrealistic for departments to outfit each individual responding unit with all of the necessary equipment to respond to every conceivable scenario.

As we all know, emergency responders are built around running towards the danger when human life is at risk. This attitude is what separates them from the average population and makes them successful at protecting life and property.
However, when not properly trained to react and respond to these types of uncommon hazards, the results are often as unfortunate as what we witnessed in Key Largo.

So, how can we change these alarming statistics for emergency responders?

First of all, it is critical that responders understand the unseen hazards they could be exposed to during these types of hazardous confined space operations. It is imperative that all personnel – from the newest rookie to the incident commander – understand what they are facing. Emergency responders must be able to recognize when they are not adequately trained or equipped for an event or hazard. They must understand that their lives are on the line in these hazardous environments.

Firefighters, from the smallest volunteer departments to the largest municipalities, must be trained to recognize the signs of hazardous environments and understand that they would be putting themselves in grave danger if they proceed with rescue attempts. Supervisory personnel should receive additional training that provides the knowledge to understand their full capabilities when facing scenarios they are not properly trained and equipped to safely handle. To stand-down is the wisest decision to protect their personnel from severe injury or death when the chances of successfully performing rescue have little to no chance for success.

It’s a difficult choice – risk vs. reward. But it’s a critical decision that emergency responders must make every day. Their personal safety must come first – it must be a viable rescue before they put themselves in harm’s way.

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Roco Rescue Training in North Dakota

Monday, January 23, 2017

Roco is excited to be conducting several Rescue & Fall Protection Workshops at the 44th Annual Safety Conference next month in Bismarck, ND. This will kick off our working relationship with the ND Safety Council to provide safe, effective confined space rescue training for their membership. 

What's more, the North Dakota Safety Council (NDSC) is currently constructing a new safety campus in Bismarck that will house a 5,000 square foot hands-on training lab. Roco, as a training partner, will provide high-level technical rescue courses at this new facility on a year-round basis.

For the conference on February 20-23, we will be conducting a number of hands-on rescue workshops and presentations to be presented by Roco Lead Instructors Dennis O’Connell, Pat Furr, Brad Warr, Eddie Chapa and Josh Hill. Sessions include:

  • Intro to Competent Person Requirements for Fall Protection
    2/20 9am-6pm (classroom w/demo)
  • Confined Space Entrant, Attendant, and Supervisor Requirements
    2/20 9am-6pm (classroom w/demos) 
  • Tripod Operations
    2/21 11am-5pm (hands-on training) 
  • So You’ve Fallen, Now What?
    2/22 10am-11:30am (classroom)
  • Dial 911 for Confined Space Rescue
    2/22 1:30pm-2:30pm (classroom w/demos)
  • Confined Space and Rope Rescue...
    2/22 1:30pm-5pm (hands-on training) 
  • Trench Collapse Rescue Considerations
    2/22 2:45pm-3:45pm (classroom) 
  • Fallen/Suspended Worker Rescue
    2/23 8am-11:15am (classroom w/demos) 
  • We look forward to meeting you at Roco booths (#202 & #203) or in these training sessions. For more info, click to NDSC’s 44th Annual Safety & Health Conference. Don't forget to register online at www.ndsc.org for these training sessions.
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Three More CS Deaths Due to Atmospheric Hazards

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

KEY LARGO, Fla. - Three workers in the Florida Keys died Monday morning (Jan 16) after they were overcome by fumes, authorities said. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials said they responded to reports of three people down. The victims were working at a road project.

A representative said a worker went inside a drainage manhole to see why the newly-paved Long Key Road was settling at that location. She said the worker got trapped inside the manhole and three other workers, a volunteer firefighter with Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department and two Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies tried to help get him out.

The two workers who collapsed and the firefighter, who also collapsed after going underground, were pulled from the hole, authorities said. The two workers were pronounced dead at the scene. It took authorities several hours to recover the body of the third worker. The firefighter and deputies were taken to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier.

The firefighter, identified by relatives as Leonardo Moreno, was then airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center, where he is listed in critical condition.

"A firefighter had an air pack on," Monroe County Sheriff Ramsey said. "He found the hole too small, so he elected to take his air pack off and go inside the hole to attempt the rescue."

The deputies are being treated for non-life-threatening ailments. A fourth worker for the contractor was treated at the scene.

Cause of deaths will be determined by the Monroe County medical examiner.

A woman who lives near the manhole told Local 10 News that the area has smelled of rotten eggs for the past couple of months.

The contracted workers were in a 15-foot hole and it's believed that a build-up of hydrogen sulfide and methane is to blame for the deaths.

"There's no sign of any pre-venting going in, and obviously going into a contained environment where there is gases can be deadly, as we unfortunately found out today," Ramsey said.

Records show that the contractor was fined for an incident at a manhole in Collier County in 2002. In that case, OSHA said workers were exposed to hazardous conditions.

UPDATE: We are glad to report that the firefighter involved in this incident has been taken off the ventilator and is breathing on his own with no neurological deficits shown so far. This information is according to the latest update on his gofundme page https://www.gofundme.com/leomoreno

SOURCES: WPLG Local10.com and Firefighter Nation.
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Silent, Invisible, Insidious & Deadly...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

By Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator for Roco Rescue, Inc.

Oxygen-Depleted Atmospheric Hazards in Confined Spaces

It will take your breath away! This is a phrase often used to describe tremendous beauty, or exhilaration. However, in an oxygen-depleted environment, this phrase has a much more ominous meaning. The emotion it elicits is hardly pleasant and joyful. Confusion, panic, impending doom, and okay... maybe even euphoria, which has been reported in near drowning cases, but the euphoria is a late onset emotion once the brain is deprived of oxygen. Suffice to say, having your breath taken away in an oxygen-depleted environment is never a good thing!

In my prior career with USAF Pararescue, I underwent regularly scheduled physiological training in an altitude chamber; otherwise, known as a hypobaric chamber. This was used to train me to recognize the onset of hypoxia (low physiologic oxygen content) and the symptoms that are particular to me. The symptoms of hypoxia differ from person to person and mine were pretty subtle. A loss of peripheral vision and color acuity, a slight warming of the sides of my neck and face, but other than those symptoms, I didn’t have any dramatic, obvious clues that I was in trouble. On at least two occasions, I had to be told by the chamber operator to don my oxygen mask. Once I did, the return to normalcy was profound! I was then able to jot down my symptoms as I remembered them. As I was undergoing my slide into hypoxia, I was given basic written tests to perform such as simple addition problems, connecting the dots, finishing incomplete squares and circles. In every case, I thought that I was doing really well on my assignment; that is until my oxygen mask was returned and I reviewed my work. FAIL!!! This exercise was intended to demonstrate to me the insidious nature of hypoxia and the unrecognized affects it has on coordination and judgment.

My experiences in the altitude chamber were educational and potentially lifesaving if I were ever exposed to a low oxygen environment. By having experienced my subtle symptoms multiple times, perhaps I would recognize them in a lower than normal oxygen environment and be able to take action to rescue myself. However, the environment that I was exposed to was probably in the range of 12% oxygen by volume give or take. In lower concentrations, say below 10%, the onset of impaired judgment would be so rapid that I would have little chance to recognize and react on my own behalf. In extremely low concentrations of 0-8%, there is little chance for anyone to take self-rescue actions. More than likely, the individual will pass out after only one or two gasping breaths. And, most importantly, my experiences were in a controlled environment with highly trained observers and emergency personnel standing by. This is not always the case during confined space entry operations.

How do we end up with depleted oxygen concentrations in confined spaces? 

There are several ways, but I am going to address two broad categories of occurrence: (a) planned, and (b) unplanned. Planned low oxygen concentrations may be unavoidable when doing entries that require an inert gas environment, such as certain types of welding or when doing work in a flammable or explosive atmosphere. By removing the oxygen, one of the three elements of flame is eliminated. There will remain fuel and possibly a source of ignition, but by removing the oxygen, there is no potential for fire in nearly every instance. Even during planned oxygen depleted operations, things have a potential to go wrong. Equipment failure is one possible cause. Faulty supplied air breathing systems can be the culprit. It may be as simple as a failed “O” ring, a faulty diverter valve, a lost connection on an airline respirator system, and many other links of equipment. Or, it could be human error – such as not tending airlines and causing the mask to be dislodged or pulled completely off; failure to change out bottles on the SAR cart; exceeding the safe time and egress requirements if using backpack SCBA; or again, any number of human failures. So you can see that even during planned low O2 entries, the potential for an incident is quite high. That is why OSHA 1910.134 has such stringent requirements for entry into an atmospheric IDLH environment.

It is the unplanned depleted oxygen environments that seem to cause the most incidents, however. Within unplanned low O2 entries, I would like to further categorize them into two separate areas.

  1. Unplanned...in that the atmospheric hazard was thought to be controlled, but the potential for the hazard to appear was realized, and indeed created the low oxygen hazard. This could be due to improper isolation techniques or equipment failure.
  2. Unplanned and unanticipated...this is the one that really seems to be causing problems. It may happen in permit-required confined spaces and also in non-permit required confined spaces. Upon evaluation, the entry team may have identified the space as non-permit required and assumed there was no need to perform pre-entry atmospheric monitoring. In several incidents, unbeknownst to the entry team, a prior entry team introduced an inert gas into the space for their particular work activities and failed in two ways. The team did not ventilate the space to remove the inert gas and test it afterwards; and, more importantly, the prior entry team failed to communicate the presence of the inert gas to any potential follow-on entrants. Or it may be that the information regarding the inert gas was communicated, but that information was lost in the shuffle. It may have never made it to the follow-on entry team – or that team may have failed to properly process the information. As you can imagine, this type situation has not only led to the demise of the unaware follow-on entrant, but also to several would-be rescuers that attempted rescue without any clue that the oxygen concentration was at a lethal level.

So what is the solution? 

Although this simple step will not “guarantee” a safe entry operation, I know for a fact that by simply employing an atmospheric monitor to test for oxygen will save many lives. And, don’t limit the use of atmospheric monitors for entries into known or potentially low O2 atmospheres! That is an OSHA minimum, so why not exceed that minimum requirement and get into the habit of testing the oxygen concentration for ALL entries? And, not just for permit-required spaces, include non-permit spaces as well. You just never know. Also when monitoring, don’t forget to test the various levels of the space and all breathing zones. Various gases tend to stratify, some being heavier than air, and some lighter, while others are nearly equal and will diffuse universally. Maintain your monitors, calibrate them and bump test them as required by the manufacturer and use them regularly. They are easy to use and relatively inexpensive. They have saved many lives and will continue to do so, if used properly.

Be safe out there and monitor, monitor, monitor!

Although this article has focused on low oxygen atmospheres, we do not mean to minimize the potential for other hazardous atmospheres, such as toxic or flammable. It is just our experience that of all the hazardous atmospheres, it seems that low oxygen is the one that crops up more often and continues to claim a disproportionate number of entrants AND would-be rescuers.

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