Any individual who is employed is in some type of risk of experiencing an on-the-job injury. While some dangers, like working from high structures or around heavy machinery, may be pretty obvious, others are a bit more discreet. Working in confined spaces is one such danger. Unfortunately, an Illinois workers’ compensation lawyer sees numerous cases related to confined spaces throughout his career.
A confined space is defined as an area that is large enough for a worker to enter to perform certain work-related duties but has limited means of entry or exit. It is not designed for continuous occupancy. Although the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has set a variety of rules and regulations that are meant to protect workers in confined spaces, numerous individuals still lose their lives while working in confined spaces each year.
Recently, a worker in Illinois was a victim. According to reports, the 27-year-old male suffered cardiac arrhythmia while cleaning out a 30,000-gallon rail car. Since the worker was unable to exit the rail car on his own, and the employer did not have the trained personnel or proper equipment to rescue him, the man collapsed and later died.
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Upon investigation, the company was cited with seven willful violations, 14 serious violations, and has since been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Many of the violations involved confined spaces that required permits. The company also failed to provide personal protective equipment, failed to designate trained employees for rescue, and failed to use a rescue line that is designed to be tied to the worker in case retrieval is necessary.
While OSHA has proposed fines of approximately $188,000 and is requiring that the employer either comply within 15 days, request a conference with the area director, or contest before the review commission, it seems that these penalties are simply not enough. Illinois workers’ compensation lawyer Neal Strom states that “An unfortunate number of individuals are seriously injured or killed each year due to their employer’s failure to comply with safety regulations. Perhaps it is time that stricter penalties are enforced.”