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Confined Space Fatality Follow-up

Monday, August 29, 2011

Here’s a follow up to a Confined Space Fatality story we published earlier this year. One of the injured persons (a “would be” rescuer and co-worker of the initial victim) remains hospitalized since January. According to a Cal/OSHA Chief, “it is unfortunately common for other employees to be injured or killed while attempting impromptu rescue of the initial victim.” In fact, NIOSH states that prior to enactment of the permit-required confined space regulation, 60% of all fatalities in confined space incidents where multiple fatalities occurred were “would-be” rescuers.

This article also addresses the importance of proper planning for confined space operations. These incidents continue to happen all too often when workers aren’t properly trained to deal with the hazards of confined spaces and the appropriate actions to take prior to entering a space – especially if a co-worker is already down. Keep in mind, most likely, there’s something very wrong in the space! As a rescuer, or a “would be” rescuer/co-worker, don’t rush into a confined space. You must protect yourself first!

Cal/OSHA fines prominent pharmaceutical firm $371,000 for safety violations leading to worker fatality

Los Angeles – Cal/OSHA issued eleven citations totaling $371,250 to Baxter Healthcare Corporation dba Baxter Bioscience this week for deliberate and willful workplace safety violations which resulted in the death of one of their technicians and serious injury of two others. The violations included four willful citations, indicating intentional violation or knowledge of a violation. Baxter has 15 business days to appeal or pay the citations. “We will not tolerate employers who intentionally sacrifice the safety of their workers,” said DIR Acting Director Christine Baker. “Our goal is to prevent these needless tragedies and ensure employers live up to their responsibility of protecting their workers.”

On January 21, Baxter technician Henry Astilla, 33, collapsed when he entered a seven foot deep, 6,000 liter tank in which nitrogen gas was being bubbled through plasma as part of a protein extraction process. Air in the tank had been displaced by the nitrogen gas resulting in an oxygen deficient atmosphere in the tank. Cal/OSHA regulations require employers to have special protective procedures in place prior to the entrance by employees into these types of confined spaces. In this case, the employer had not tested the atmosphere prior to entrance to insure there was sufficient oxygen, which led to Astilla’s death.

Cal OSHA’s investigation further revealed that when Astilla was discovered, a supervisor ordered two other employees to enter the tank and retrieve him, without testing the atmosphere of the tank or providing proper equipment and other safeguards necessary for a safe rescue. As a result, Astilla died and the two employees sent to retrieve him were seriously injured. One remains hospitalized since January.

“The hazards of working in confined spaces are well documented and this is a classic example of the kind of injury that occurs when employers fail to adequately protect their employees,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “When confined space operations are not properly planned, it is unfortunately common for other employees to be injured or killed while attempting impromptu rescue of the initial victim.”

Cal/OSHA determined that Baxter’s confined space program failed to comply with all requirements, including appropriate atmospheric testing, protective equipment as well as rescue equipment and procedures. Baxter Bioscience is a multi-national pharmaceutical company with a Los Angeles plant located in Atwater Village. The facility is the largest of its kind in the nation, utilizing advanced technology to produce plasma proteins.

The citations Cal/OSHA issued this week included one classified as general and ten classified as serious, four of which were classified as willful. Willful classifications are issued when an employer either commits an intentional violation and is aware that it violates a safety law, or when an employer is aware that an unsafe or hazardous condition exists and makes no reasonable effort to eliminate the hazard.
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A Special Tribute…

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

With last week’s tragic helicopter crash, our nation suffered a tremendous loss. Having provided training for these special teams for more than ten years, we know first-hand the dedication and commitment these individuals have to our country and our freedom. Because of this, ROCO has supported the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for many years now and is very committed to its cause, which is to support the families of these brave individuals. We feel that the BEST thing we can do now is to pray for these families and HELP support their children’s education. We hope you will take a look and pass the word.

The mission of Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF) is to provide a college education to every child who has lost a parent while serving in Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations during an operational or training mission. Because the SOWF will add as many children to the program from last week’s helicopter crash as it normally does in an entire year, we wanted to bring your attention to this most worthy organization.

The SOWF Board of Directors decided earlier this week that the Warrior Foundation will offer full college scholarships to the children of ALL of the American servicemen who perished in the recent CH-47 helicopter crash in Afghanistan.  “This was a tragic day for our military and our families. While the majority of personnel onboard the CH-47 were special operators, and they are automatically covered by the foundation, we wanted to offer our services to all who were on that fateful mission,” said retired Air Force Col. John T. Carney, Jr., the foundation’s president.

The Warrior Foundation is in the process of contacting all of the families affected by this tragedy to inform them about the SOWF college program, which provides funds for a full post-secondary education, including tuition, books, fees, room and board and a computer and printer. Currently, the SOWF has 144 children of fallen Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations personnel enrolled in colleges and universities across the country; and 182 students have graduated via SOWF scholarships. The foundation has pledged to provide a college education for another 600 boys and girls who are not yet college age.

Because the SOWF expects to add many children to the scholarship program from last week’s loss of 30 U.S. servicemen, your donation would not only be a fitting tribute to these brave and selfless warriors, but help ensure their sons and daughters are among those who receive the education that their fallen parents would have wanted them to have.

Click to donate – thank you!
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Is your team ready for a 750-ft cell tower rescue?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Burleson (TX) Fire Department recently got a chance to put their skills (and stamina)to the test when they rescued a worker from atop a 750-ft cell tower. It sounds like they did a great job, and serves as an important reminder of the challenges these towers can pose to local emergency responders. Preplanning for this type of incident is critical – especially when it occurs in the middle of summer! Temperatures were 100+ degrees at the time of the dramatic rescue.

In situations like this, rescuers not only need the proper technical skills and equipment for a rescue of this intensity, but also adequate manning for such a physically demanding endeavor.

Here are a few things to keep in mind. Rescue rope is heavy, especially when climbing a 700-plus foot vertical face in extreme heat. Hydrate, or you run the risk of crossing the line from asset to liability. Be willing to adapt as needed – for example, you may need additional manpower just to deal with the weight of the rope. Plan for the unexpected – the worker had removed his harness!

Hopefully, if faced with a situation like this, you will have personnel who are trained, equipped and physically able to deal with it. Fortunately, it was a great outcome for this team. However, let’s not miss the opportunity to learn from their experience and be prepared if we get this type of call!

Visit Fox's website to read the story and view a video from this heroic rescue.
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Manhole Rescue Effort Ends in 2 Deaths

Friday, June 17, 2011

Authorities are investigating the suffocation of two North Carolina workers in a water system manhole—one of whom apparently died trying to rescue the other.

The victims were employees of Triangle Grading and Paving Inc., a Burlington NC-based utility contractor that has been cited dozens of times for federal health and safety violations.

In 1997, a company employee burned to death on a job. Luis Castaneda Gomez, 34, of Durham, and Jesus Martinez Benitez, 32, of Clayton, perished in the accident about 6 p.m. EDT Tuesday (June 7) in a section of water system under construction off U.S. 70. The men had been laying water lines in the system, near the Durham-Wake County line.

Lack of Oxygen Note


North Carolina’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating.

Officials are not sure what happened, but the local fire department and county hazmat team that responded to the scene found that the 12-foot-deep hole had insufficient oxygen to sustain life, said Capt. Don Ladd of the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. They donned breathing equipment to bring the men out.

Rescue workers recover the bodies of two men who suffocated in a manhole in Durham, NC. “What you’ve got down in the bottom [of the hole] is any number of things—whatever is connected to that manhole, could be methane gas or could be any number of things—that would cause oxygen deprivation,” said Allen McNeely, deputy director of NC DOSH.

The men were in a shaft that goes down 12 to 14 feet, then leads into a 4-by-6-foot bunker where several water pipes come together, Ladd said.

911 Call Released


Authorities believe that either Gomez or Benitez was having trouble breathing, or was unconscious, in the hole and the other went down to help him before he, too, suffocated.

A third worker at the site flagged down a passing motorist to call 911. According to a tape of the 911 call, the pair had been in the hole for about 15 minutes and were unconscious when the motorist arrived.

The third worker said he had dropped off Gomez and Benitez 30 to 45 minutes earlier to retrieve some equipment and returned to find both men in the shaft, not moving, Ladd said.

The men were pronounced dead at the scene.

Company Responds


Triangle Grading & Paving installs large and small sanitary sewer, water lines, storm sewer, pump stations and vacuum sanitary systems. The company released this statement Wednesday:

“Triangle Grading and Paving grieves with the families of Jesus Martinez and Luis Gomez, two valued members of our utility division who lost their lives in an accident at one of our projects yesterday.

“We take great pride in our safety and education programs at Triangle. We do everything in our power to prevent injuries and deaths in a dangerous occupation. Over the past three years, we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the safety of hundreds of employees.

“Yesterday, a deadly incident occurred in spite of those efforts, and we are now cooperating with the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division’s investigation of this matter and conducting our own investigation as well. Because our investigation is ongoing, we will not have further comment about this today.”

Extensive OSHA History


Triangle Paving has an extensive record with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company has been cited 68 times for violations since 1997—most of the charges, if not all, significantly reduced in severity and monetary penalties before settlement.

The company settled three cases with OSHA in the first three months of 2011, two cases in 2010, and four in 2009. Still pending is a 2010 case involving one willful and two serious violations. A willful violation is OSHA’s highest level of infraction and carries major penalties.

In that case, the company was fined $57,000 for failing to protect workers from cave-ins while they labored in an eight-foot trench at a project on Fort Bragg. The fine has tentatively been reduced to $40,000, but the case remains open.

“Triangle Grading and Paving has a history of trenching violations and is fully aware of required safety standards to protect its workers,” Suzanne Street, OSHA’s area director in Raleigh, said last year in announcing the fines.

“This employer continues to put workers at risk by ignoring these safety standards.”

In 1997, an employee of Triangle burned to death after a hydraulic line on the bulldozer he was operating ruptured and the fluid triggered a fire that engulfed the cab. The company paid $3,300 in fines for poor maintenance, infrequent inspections, and inadequate training.

Record Not Checked


Asked by a local NBC affiliate how Triangle continued to operate with such a checkered safety record, a North Carolina Department of Labor official replied: “We’re not in the business of putting people out of business, but we are in the business of making sure that it’s a safe working environment that workers work in.”

In Tuesday’s accident, DOL is investigating whether the company followed training, equipment and other requirements for working in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, said department spokesman Neal O’Briant.

Jerry Morrone, Durham Engineering Supervisor, told the NBC affiliate that the city had not known about Triangle’s safety record. Morrone said his department had checked “at least three” references but had not checked DOL records. He said none of the references mentioned Triangle’s safety record.

“It is a tragedy,” McNeely told the Charlotte News Observer. “If it turns out that it was one worker going in, and the other went in to save him when he got no response, then it’s almost what you’d expect a buddy to do.”
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A stingray, my teenager and special care from the Fort Morgan VFD

Thursday, June 09, 2011

So many communities and sleepy villages across America rely on their local volunteer fire departments for first responding. It is a critical service that saves lives, and a lot of pain in the world. In my case, the Fort Morgan (AL) VFD showed great compassion, expertise, and confidence in responding to our small incident with the calm and collected demeanor you see in so many veteran responders. As a citizen, you can detect the honor and dedication they have in just a brief encounter like this one.

While we don’t get many vacation days with teenage boys at home, we were lucky to sneak off to Fort Morgan, AL for a couple of days last month. Fifteen minutes after we settled under the shade of our umbrella, my 17-year-old son made a B-line out of the water, screaming and holding a foot that was spewing blood… volumes.


Realizing this was no ordinary jelly-fish incident, I dialed 911 and described the symptoms… BIG PAIN. Like most experienced Moms, after the cut was under control, I went straight for the ice bag. On application our victim began full body trembling, sweating, and more moaning. (This is the guy who didn’t cry when he ripped his bicep on a fence post and required thirty stitches!)

Within 4 minutes of calling 911, the Fort Morgan Volunteer Fire Department (FMVFD) arrived at our condo. Five experienced gentlemen stepped into the room, asked a few key questions, and started giving orders. Calm as a cucumber they instructed, “Mom, go get a hot towel, hot as you can get it.” I obeyed and handed it to the fireman. He gently wrapped the wounded foot in the warm towel and within seconds you could see the relief on the face of our patient. This pretty much confirmed the diagnosis… stingray venom.

Most stingray-related injuries to humans occur to the ankles and lower legs, when someone accidentally steps on a ray buried in the sand and the frightened fish flips up its dangerous tail.

A stingray’s venom is not necessarily fatal, but it hurts a lot. It’s composed of the enzymes 5-nucleotidase and phosphodiesterase and the neurotransmitter serotonin.Serotonin causes smooth muscle to severely contract, and it is this component that makes the venom so painful. The enzymes cause tissue and cell death. Heat breaks down stingray venom and limits the amount of damage it can do. It’s the best treatment for beach boys who run into the stingray, and the FMVFD knows this.

I took a moment to “google” the guys at FMVFD to get their names for this article. But like so many in the rescue field, the individual names are not promoted. It was a pleasure to see that U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner announced the award of funding to the Fort Morgan Volunteer Department from the United States Department of Homeland Security and the United States Fire Administration (USFA). The grant, totaling $134,955, is being made available through the USFA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program and will be used for the purchase of a firefighting vehicle.

It’s a joy to know that there is FEMA money available to keep these essential programs intact, and help them make improvements. From the small stings to larger threats, volunteer departments deserve our respect and support. Donations are always a great way to say a special thanks!

The “Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program” provides one-year grant funding to local fire departments to assist them in improving their ability to respond to fire-related and other emergencies in their communities. The funding cane be used to purchase firefighting equipment, enhance emergency medical services programs, fund firefighter health and safety programs, and conduct fire education and prevention programs.
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