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Coating Firm, GC Cited in Manhole Death

Monday, March 4, 2013

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A St. Louis-area industrial painting contractor and general contractor share responsibility in the suffocation of an employee who perished in a pipe 18 feet underground a sewer plant last summer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ruled.

OSHA has issued 14 willful, serious and other violations and $224,000 in penalties against Coatings Unlimited Inc., of Bridgeton, MO, in the August 2012 death of employee Steve Webb, 53. The agency also announced two serious citations and $5,600 in fines against general contractor KCI Construction Co., of St. Louis.

Webb perished Aug. 28 inside an 18-foot-deep vault manhole while building the Boschertown sanitary sewer lift station.

Authorities said Webb had worked in several confined spaces that day and had collapsed amid exposure to a variety of toxic vapors, including the solvent methyl ethyl ketone (MEK). The medical examiner listed the cause of death as acute MEK toxicity.

Coatings Unlimited is facing 14 OSHA violations after an employee died from exposure to methyl ethyl ketone. KCI Construction Company was also cited.

Calls to both companies for comment were not immediately returned Friday (March 1).

Acute MEK Toxicity

"Employers have a responsibility to take all necessary steps to eliminate hazards from the workplace and to ensure workers are given the proper training to conduct required tasks," Charles Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, MO, said in a news release.

"Workers should be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment to limit exposure to hazardous chemicals. It is tragic that one employee lost his life during the construction project."

Webb worked in six different confined spaces using methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and an epoxy that contained xylene, methyl isobutyl ketone, and ethyl benzene before being overcome, OSHA said.

Coatings Unlimited has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections of what OSHA calls "recalcitrant" employers.

Confined-Space Violations

The citations against Coatings Unlimited comprise three willful, 10 serious, and one other-than-serious.

Willful violations—OSHA's highest level of infraction—allege failure to:

  • Implement safety precautions before assigning work in a confined space;
  • Test atmospheric conditions of the confined space before and after entry; and
  • Control exposure to MEK.

OSHA said Coatings Unlimited had failed to protect Webb as he worked in vault manholes and a dry well.

Specifically, according to the willful violations, the company failed to:

  • Complete a confined-space permit;
  • Assign an attendant to the worksite to be stationed immediately outside the confined space during all periods of entry;
  • Provide and require the use of appropriate harness and retrieval equipment;
  • Provide air sampling equipment; and
  • Provide and require the use of ventilation equipment.

OSHA also charged that the employer failed to conduct an assessment to determine the potential for a hazardous atmosphere or treat the atmosphere as an Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) environment.

The employer failed to conduct an assessment in accordance with its own written respirator program despite having air sampling equipment, according to OSHA.

Coatings Unlimited Coatings Unlimited
Coatings Unlimited

Founded in 1954, Coatings Unlimited of Bridgeton, MO, provides a variety of coating and lining services. The contractor is facing 14 federal violations and $224,000 in fines related to the death of an employee.

Webb was exposed to atmospheric hazards when Coatings Unlimited failed to test or estimate solvent levels and failed to test for sewer gases in the event of a valve leak, leakage from the wet well into the dry well, or migration of soil gases from the lagoon system, according to OSHA.

Additionally, Webb was exposed to 2-butanone above the eight-hour time weighted average permissible exposure limit of 200 parts per million. He was exposed to about 1,000 ppm averaged over an eight-hour time period. The company failed to conduct air monitoring, OSHA said.

Engineering controls were not implemented to control atmospheric concentrations of MEK and other solvents. OSHA said Coatings Unlimited failed to use engineering controls in accordance with its written safety and health programs.

Serious Respiratory Violations

Five of the 10 serious violations accuse Coatings Unlimited of violating OSHA's respiratory standards when Webb entered a sanitary sewer dry well and vault manholes to perform solvent cleaning and painting.

Serious violations allege that Coatings Unlimited did not: 

  • Include worksite specific procedures when an atmospheric hazard was introduced and/or existed in a confined space;
  • Designate a program administrator who was qualified by appropriate training or experience to administer or oversee the respiratory protection program;
  • Provide medical evaluation to determine Webb's ability to use a respirator before he was fit tested or required to use the respirator;
  • Provide comprehensive, understandable respirator training, which did not occur annually and/or more often if necessary; and
  • Establish a record of of the qualitative and quantitative fit tests administered to an employee.

The remaining serious violations allege that the company did not:

  • Include adequate hazard communication training to employees;
  • Instruct employees on the hazards involved, the necessary precautions to be taken, and the use of protective and emergency equipment required;
  • Ensure that appropriate chemical resistant gloves were provided to a worker who used methyl ethyl ketone and rags to wipe clean piping/valve surfaces before painting;
  • Ensure that an employee had a fire extinguisher readily available at all times when working with flammable products; and
  • Provide adequate portable extension ladders.

The other-than-serious violation was for allegedly failing to label storage tanks with signage to identify chemical hazards.

Serious citation penalites totaled $56,000. The willful citation carries a $168,000 fine. There was no fine levied for the other-than-serious citation.

KCI Violations

KCI Construction received two serious citations and a total fine of $5,600.

The company was the project's general contractor.

According to OSHA, KCI failed to perform regular inspections, leading to unsafe conditions that included use of unsafe ladder rungs, misuse of a step ladder, lack of air monitoring before and during entry in a confined space, lack of attendant, lack of mechanical ventilation, lack of retrieval equipment, and lack of respiratory protection.

The other serious violation said that the company did not instruct the subcontractor's employee in recognizing and avoiding unsafe conditions.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Confined space; Enforcement; Fatalities; General contractors; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Methyl acetate; OSHA; Painting Contractors; Respiratory Protection Standard

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/4/2013, 6:23 AM)

Coatings unlimited, founded in 1954, had no respirator training documentation, confined space training documented where is the foreman and project manager was the worker even wearing vapor cartridges " I have found alot of workers dont know the differance in particulate and vapor" and most C-5 dont catch it either. This is about the 5th worker I have read has been killed in these manhole jobs over the last two years do you guys even get it or do you even care ? Owners of these jobs/General contractors hire an experianced field inspector that actually learned what to do in the field not just the "BOOK" certified guys and this does not have to happen it is so sad that Ignorance continues across our industry like this , to the foreman/project manager no one in your company would answer the Phone prior to this being published,But be a proffesional and get on here and respond to me. My name is Billy Russell and I approve this post (An exhaust fan) is simple and easy why the H&%$ did you not have one no excuse!!!!!!!

Comment from Jane Warren, (3/4/2013, 3:29 PM)

This is a terrible and totally preventable accident that any company working in confined spaces should absolutely be able to control with the proper safety equipment and training. So sad to keep hearing about these kinds of accidents.

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/4/2013, 9:01 PM)

Agreed Jane, I have done over a thousand confined space jobs over the years (NOT ONE) lost time injury because I always opened it up and installed the exhaust fans first, they were running before anything else was done the guys that were responsible for this job have zero excuse for causing this loss of life and should be brought up on charges for proffesional negligence I am sick of reading about this happening in these man holes, would like to know the experiance level of the foreman, as well as the project superintendant, prayers for the family of the worker that died. I am my brothers Keeper!!!!!!!!!

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/6/2013, 9:49 PM)

I have Bi#@%$^ enough about this now, I have a question? Why are we not requiring air fed Resperator (Full Face or half) in these man hole coating projects, can some one recomend to OSHA that we make this mandatory, that way the next life lost as a result of this type of negligance. we can persue criminal charges against these guys who are clearly cutting the corner on safety. Make it Mandatory enough of my Brothers have died !!!! My name is Billy Russell and I approve this message

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (3/7/2013, 4:41 AM)

Same accident - different people!!!

Comment from gregg pansa, (3/11/2013, 4:03 PM)

I have worked for CUI off and on for many years and although they are not perfect they have a top notch saftey program and two dedicated saftey people that care very deeply about all projects and employess, also employees have to read the saftey manual as part of there orientation. It is verey easy to sit in judgement of a contractor and worker that had a horrible accident.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/12/2013, 9:25 AM)

I've felt for a long time "Here, read this safety manual" is not an effective method for getting someone trained in safety.

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/12/2013, 10:24 AM)

Gregg Pansa, this was not an accident, this was gross negligance put your velvet gloves in your pockett and just go get your job back but do not make excuses for ignorance, The two dedicated safety people you are refering to might want to explain the violations osha found at that site No ventilation equipment on site is not an accident its called gross negligence, putting untrained helpers in that manhole with out the proper training is not two dedicated saftey people, its called pencil whipping the required documentation and OSHA found that was not even done so next time I recomend that you actually READ the article first, then display your compassion for who you are trying to get employed by, I am my Brothers Keeper these manhole deaths have got to be stoped NOW before they have time to actually read your saftey manual.

Comment from zack harris, (3/12/2013, 7:24 PM)

A damn good man lost.his life because of.poor.and I worked for.CUI out west on two projects and the {SAFETY} man was no more than a (go for this go for that) guy . The guys in the field done more for safety than any one of the foremen. RIP STEVE

Comment from Chuck Pease, (3/12/2013, 10:03 PM)

Top notch safety program. Are you frigging kidding me Gregg. You are either related somehow or are a complete idiot. Reading a safety manual doesnt constitute employer mandated training.I also have been working confined spaces and this is a dismal failure on all concerned. CU please get out of the business before you kill another worker. Shame on the GC also for not implementing follow up to assure the low ball subs they hire follow job safety protocol. A wise man once said, you can have all the window dressing you want and a safety manual 4 inches thick, but it dont mean a damn if there isnt any implementation.

Comment from gregg pansa, (3/13/2013, 5:22 PM)

My statement above was mis stated on my part, what i ment was when i was employeed by them 3 years ago they had a good program, and good people to implement them, also i am not trying to gain employment with them and am not related to them.And you are all right the problem is that saftey is ignored by alot of contractors,and we workers pay the price

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/14/2013, 7:00 AM)

Thank you Gregg, for clearing that up Sir, We all know what really goes on in the field on these projects,We are the ones at risk, Saftey starts with the Blasters/Coaters The more experianced guys looking out for the younger ones,But none of us should accept corners being cut by contractors regarding saftey QP certified or not, Union or Not, NACE & SSPC we all have to stand together and let our voices be heard that we will not stand for one more of our Brothers to fall because of ignorance by allowing anyone on any project to cut corners on saftey. DO it Right or go home,but we have to stand and fight for the protection of our Brothers holding those Blast hoses, applying that coating,Removing that Lead paint, NO MORE can we allow the "Pencil Whipping" of all the Saftey documents by both the contractor and the 3rd party inspection firm That put people in the class, that read a book got certified, But does not Know a D#@$ thing about our industry and what to look for to protect my Brothers. My name is Billy Russell and I approve this post, I am now and always will be my Brothers Keeper !!!!!!!

Comment from Chuck Pease, (3/15/2013, 4:11 PM)

Gregg, I would like at this point to apologize to you for my statement. I am very passionate about this topic and allowed my emotions to overide my "count to 10" before commenting. Just gets old reading about deaths of workers in the industrial sector, or any sector for that matter. Billy Russel I also endorse your staements. :)

Comment from Billy Russell, (3/19/2013, 10:35 AM)

Chuck Pease Sir, I share in letting my emotions go before counting to ten,that being said, reading about this same thing burns deep in my soul for my Brothers that have fallen at the hands of these supervisors not qualified to be in these positions, I share this same contempt for 3rd party inspection firms more concerned with Billing hours than actually doing right by this nations infrastructure across the board tired of seeing the same ignorance costing lives, and owners being mislead by inspection firms playing games because they lack actual field experience Blasting and coating projects. My name is Billy Russell.

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