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Worker Killed, 2 Injured in Manhole Accident

Thursday, January 6, 2011

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Authorities are investigating the death of one worker and injury of two others who were apparently overcome by fumes while repairing a pipeline to a water treatment plant in Winston-Salem, NC.

The accident occurred in a stretch of raw-water pipeline between Salem Lake and the Thomas Water Treatment Plant between 10 and 10:30 a.m. Wednesday (Jan. 5), according to a release from the Winston-Salem Fire Department.

The three workers were taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where one of them--Herman Wilson, 62, of Winston-Salem--later died. The other employees, whose names were not released, were being treated were expected to recover.

Low Oxygen Levels

“They were dry water pipes,” Sandy Shephard, of the Fire Department, told News14 Carolina, the statewide news channel. “Possibly there was a gas present in the space, that was either toxic or, more likely, just displaced the oxygen and caused a low oxygen atmosphere.”

Health Compliance Officer Sam Atassi told “We documented only low oxygen levels, and we went to another manhole and that had normal levels. So this one had low levels. We are going to investigate it further and see what’s going on.”

Subcontractor: Workers Overwhelmed

The crew worked for J. Ramey Construction LLC, a subcontractor of Ramey Inc.

The City-County Utilities Division hired Ramey in November to clean out the pipe and make necessary repairs in preparation for placing the rebuilt Thomas water plant into operation later this year, the Fire Department said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident.

Ramey Inc. did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

However, Jim Armentrout of Jade Ramey Construction told that two workers had been in the manhole for 15 minutes when they tried to remove an old valve and were overcome by gas fumes. A third employee tried to help the men, but he was also overwhelmed by the fumes.


Tagged categories: Health and safety; Pipelines; Wastewater Plants

Comment from Steve Badenhop, (1/7/2011, 3:23 AM)

I feel bad that someone lost their life, but where were the engineering controls? Where was the PRCSE training? Where was the competent competent [repeated on purpose] person? There should have been ventilation, supplied air respirators, or SCBA in use. The "rescuer(s)" should have known better than to enter into a confined space when two other guys just dropped. A permit system should have had a fire department or similar unit on notice so they could provide prompt rescue or recovery of the entrants. Granted, the article was slim on the facts, but this type of situation sounds like a classic example of how - not - to do a confined space entry operation.

Comment from Mark Nichol, (1/7/2011, 12:32 PM)

Sadly this appears to be a typical situation where either 1) employers fail to provide confined space entry training and have a program in place to protect workers safety. 2) Employees fail to follow the established procedures due to either complacency or lack of knowledge.

Comment from Victor Nouel, (1/7/2011, 3:13 PM)

I saw a case like this in Venezuela many years ago when a concrete sewer pipeline was built and left out of service for about 6 to 8 years, but was connected to other pipelines that were operative. There, about 3 workers were killed and several had to be assisted. The cause was apparently H2S gas presence. I only read that they checked for oxygen but not for other gases and that did they didn't aerate the pipe prior to entering it for work. I agree with the comments that this could have been avoided with proper safety measures.

Comment from carlos rosales, (1/7/2011, 5:25 PM)

The air monitor would have been cheaper than the two burials. Where was the safety person, the hole hatch or the entry permit for a confined space? This should have never happened. I just hope people read this and learn from other peoples' mistakes.

Comment from Steve Badenhop, (1/10/2011, 1:04 AM)

In this case, I don't think an air monitor would have had any bearing. It sounds like they were overcome by gas that escaped after the valve was broke loose. If that was the case, they didn't have a chance without SCBA or a lot of positive ventilation. Overall it sounds like a case of someone not knowing what they were getting into when they started the job.

Comment from Richard Croft Jr, (1/10/2011, 8:54 AM)

Steve's comment sounds correct. When you do a line break you would typically be breathing supplied air to eliminate the possibility of inhaling any toxics or in the event oxygen was displaced. All that said, a permit, proper training, proper atmospheric monitoring, and supplemental ventilation should all have been accomplished pre-entry.

Comment from douglas shields, (1/11/2011, 5:44 PM)

3 words: "confined space program."

Comment from Albert Albertson, (1/11/2011, 8:03 PM)

Douglas Shields said it all in 3 words: "confined space program." There is no excuse.

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