Policy Challenged after Worker Trapped

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25, 2015


Trapped for more than an hour inside a dark submarine tank at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, abrasive blaster DeShaun Fuller thought he was going to die.

Given the lapse uncovered during the ensuing investigation, he might have.

In a new interview with the Portsmouth ABC affiliate, Fuller says no one called for outside help when a temporary cover stuck on the water tank he was blast-cleaning April 23, 2014, inside the USS Albany.

Instead, co-workers around the tank tried to remove the cover themselves.

'Please Don't Let Me Die in Here'

"I'm in there panicking; I'm going crazy," Fuller told 13News. "I'm asking them, 'Please don't let me die in here', and I'm shaking the tank, shaking the lid to get out and we can't get out. I can't get out."

Fuller was trapped more than an hour in the dark, cramped space, according to the shipyard's later report of the incident, cited by the news station.

"I was in the dark with no kind of ventilation. No fresh air, no nothing," said Fuller, a single father. "No way to get out."

After workers cut through the cover and freed him, Fuller said his bosses told him that "we get people trapped in the tank all the time."

No 911 Call

After he was rescued, Fuller says he asked why no one had called 911 and was told that his being trapped was not an emergency—a characterization he strongly disputes.

NNSWaterTank
Norfolk Naval Shipyard via 13News

DeShaun Fuller was trapped for more than an hour inside this submarine water tank last April at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. His co-workers did not summon outside emergency assistance.

"I'm trying to figure out, who deems it an emergency?" he said.

Because Fuller was not seriously injured, the incident was not reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

However, a shipyard safety bulletin issued Nov. 26 notes that "emergency and rescue procedures ... require that the NNSY rescue [Navy Regional Fire and Rescue] be called any time someone is in distress in a confined space."

The bulletin also cites OSHA's 1915 Subpart B - Confined and Enclosed Spaces and Other Dangerous Atmospheres in Shipyard Employment standard. Inability to self-rescue constitutes a "dangerous atmosphere" under OSHA's standard.

Since the incident, Fuller has suffered from "acute stress reaction / anxiety" that makes it impossible to return to his old job, according to a government physician's medical report.

OSHA

OSHA's 1915 Subpart B - Confined and Enclosed Spaces and Other Dangerous Atmospheres in Shipyard Employment details entry, rescue and other requirements for shipyard workers.

That report, dated five days after the incident, says Fuller "became trapped for hours" and recommends that he be given time to recover, a mental-health consultation and anxiety medications.

'Guidance Will be Clarified'

The shipyard did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday (March 24).

But in a statement to the television station, the shipyard noted its findings in the Nov. 26 OSHE Control & Awareness Bulletin, "stating that existing guidance will be clarified to require contacting emergency services when an employee is in a blocked confined space."

The shipyard also said the temporary aluminum tank cover "has been modified to prevent a similiar instance like this occurring in the future."

   

Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Confined space; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Shipyards; Tanks and vessels

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