Locked door turned trailer into a death trap

by on December 1, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network
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Something as simple as a locked door can create serious safety hazards. In this case, two workers died because the locked door turned a trailer into a “confined space.”

“I’m not giving you a hard time,” said OSHA Inspector Renee Vasquez to supervisor Karen Frindell. “I’m trying to figure out if that trailer counts as a confined space.”

“It’s a waste-breading trailer – it has two holes in the roof where we toss in the bad stuff,” said Karen. “When the trailer gets full, we back up a truck and haul the stuff out the ground-level door. That’s two ways in and one way out – not a confined space.”

“It’s not as simple as that,” said Renee. “Those ground-level doors are locked from the outside.”

Doors locked from inside
“We’ve had some vandalism,” said Karen. “So we locked the doors to prevent kids from getting inside and making a mess.”

“But you kept the doors locked while workers were on the roof of the trailer,” said Renee. “One worker dropped a tool and went down inside the trailer to get it. A second worker fell in while trying to pull the first guy out.”

“Both died from the fumes – they couldn’t get out because you can’t open the doors from the inside,” Renee explained.

Relied on training
“That’s why we train those workers never to go inside that trailer from the roof,” said Karen. “It was a good plan. If those workers followed their training, they would have stayed out of the trailer and they’d be alive. But they ignored our warnings in a rush to retrieve a tool.”

“Training’s not enough,” said Renee. “If the trailer’s a confined space, you needed to post warning signs to tell workers to keep out and execute the rest of your confined-space procedures.”

OSHA issued a fine. The company challenged it, saying OSHA was stretching the definition of a confined space.

Did the company win?

Decision: Pay up
No, the company lost and had to pay a hefty fine. The OSHA Review Commission first noted that a confined space is one that:

  • is big enough for an employee to get inside
  • isn’t designed for continuous employee occupancy, and
  • has only one way in or out.

Confined spaces ‘happen’
Bottom line: There’s a hidden hazard here. A locked door that can’t be opened from the inside creates a confined space, if there’s only one other way in or out.

That’s how good security can interfere with safety, and why the safety director needs to communicate with your facility’s security director.

Safety director’s lesson: Whenever the company’s security measures will limit the access/egress into an area to a single entrance/exit point, remember to:

  • rethink your security (e.g., making sure that doors locked from the outside can be opened from the inside), or
  • implement your confined-space program for the space, in those instances where there is no other security option.

As this case shows, responding to security concerns such as vandalism without considering safety can lead to serious consequences.

Cite: Sec’y of Labor v. Cagle’s, No. 98-0485, OSHRC.

photo credit: quinet

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