A 42-year-old laborer leak testing joints inside a 54-inch round pipe suffered fatal blunt force injuries in October 2015, when an inflatable “bladder” ruptured at a Springfield waste-water treatment plant. OSHA inspectors found that his employer, Henderson Construction of Central Illinois Inc., failed to train him properly on the testing procedure.

The agency also cited Henderson and three other contractors working on the $54.4 million renovation of the Springfield Metro Sanitary District’s Sugar Creek Plant for failing to manage how and when workers entered the large round pipe, and other violations of federal safety guidelines for confined spaces in construction.

New standard being enforced

These are among the first citations issued under OSHA’s confined space in construction standard. The new standard took effect on Aug. 15, 2015.

On April 11, OSHA issued citations to Henderson, Williams Brothers Inc. – the controlling contractor on the site – and two other subcontractors, Tobin Bros. and Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Inc. for multiple safety violations following its investigation into the Oct. 20, 2015 incident. The worker succumbed to his injuries five days later.

“Workers can be killed when employers fail to protect construction workers from the many dangers in confined spaces,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “These are among the first citations under OSHA’s new Confined Space Standard. Employers can prevent more tragedies like this one if they ensure proper training of workers and communication among multiple employers whose workers are on the same site.

Confined space hazards

In August 2015, OSHA implemented its confined space in construction standard after research showed proper safety procedures would protect hundreds of workers each year from life-threatening hazards. Hazards include the risks of toxic exposure, electrocution, explosion and asphyxiation present for workers in confined spaces such as pipes, manholes, crawl spaces and tanks. In an emergency, it can be difficult to exit these spaces quickly or for rescuers to enter safely.

The agency’s investigation also found the four companies failed to continuously monitor confined spaces for atmospheric and other hazards and train workers in hazards.

Following its investigation, the agency cited:

  • Henderson Construction, based in Sherman, for five serious violations including failing to train workers to operate equipment. The company faces proposed penalties of $35,000. View citations here*.
  • Tobin Bros., based in Peoria, for 13 serious violations with penalties of $44,800. View citations here*.
  • Williams Bros., based in Peoria Heights, for two serious violations with penalties of $10,800. View citations here*.
  • Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, based in Springfield, for six serious violations with penalties of $30,000. View citations here*.