OSHA has cited a Cambridge, Mass., contractor for alleged willful and serious violations of safety and health standards after three of its employees were overcome by lack of oxygen on Oct. 20, 2008, while cleaning underground steam pipes on the Boston College campus in Newton, Mass. Thomas G. Gallagher Inc. faces a total of $71,000 in proposed fines.

OSHA's inspection found that the contractor had not evaluated the oxygen levels in the steam vault in which the employees worked to determine if it would be safe to enter; had not provided a harness and rescue equipment; and had not trained the employees in confined space hazards and precautions, and the protective and emergency equipment required for work in confined spaces.

As a result, OSHA has issued the company one willful citation with a proposed fine of $63,000. OSHA also has issued the company two serious citations, with $8,000 in fines, for not guarding and providing access stairs or a ladder for the manhole through which the employees entered the steam vault.

"While it is fortunate these employees were not killed, this case highlights the dangerous nature of confined space hazards," said Paul Mangiafico, OSHA's area director for Middlesex and Essex counties. "Oxygen-deficient or toxic atmospheres can swiftly sicken or kill both workers and their rescuers if they are not properly trained and equipped."

A confined space has limited or restricted means for entry or exit, is not designed for continuous employee occupancy and can contain oxygen-deficient or toxic atmospheres. Detailed information about confined space hazards and safeguards is available on OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov/SLTC/confinedspaces/index.htm.