TAILGATE TALK – Manhole Fatality Post Mortem

What comes to mind when you hear the term “Confined Space?”

Tanks. Boilers. Rail cars. Silos. Storage bins.

In roadway construction, we work outside –  Not a really confining work environment. We can be a bit cavalier with the severity of confined space entry because it’s rare that we are exposed to it….


By definition, a confined space is an area that:

  • Is large enough for an employee to enter fully and perform work
  • Is not designed for continuous occupancy by the employee, and
  • Has a limited or restricted means of entry or exit.

So, add to my above-mentioned list:

Manholes. Storm sewer pipe. Valve vaults.

This short post isn’t meant to be a dissertation on confined spaces – There are 1000’s of resources available for you to explore.

Today’s post is meant to be a reminder:

Life is fragile. We are “just” human beings who work in hazardous environments…..

Fatality in a Manhole

I just read a report posted at the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health (eLCOSH) on a construction-related fatality that occurred several years ago involving a worker in a newly-constructed manhole.

The article hit home with me:


eLCOSH : Silent Killer in a Newly Constructed Manhole

Silent Killer in a Newly Constructed Manhole – OSHA Powerpoint describes the industrial hygiene findings in a fatality investigation. The fatality occurred in a newly constructed manhole from the displacement of oxygen by carbon dioxide from limestone rock in an area with acidic topsoil. Acid leaches from soil, which then contacts the limestone (calcium carbonate) producing carbon dioxide. A vacuum drawn on the manhole while testing during the construction process resulted in displacement of oxygen with carbon dioxide.

As construction engineers, we work with and in manholes all the time. Are we exposed to the dangers that took this workers life? You bet we are.

Could this incident have occurred on one of our jobsites? Could someone we know been a victim?


After Actions

Let this article serve as a reminder for all of us:

Stay alert. Aware. Watchful. Vigilant.

Brush up on your knowledge of Confined Spaces. Spend 10 minutes tomorrow morning with your coffee exploring some resources.

I downloaded the PowerPoint referenced in the article (HERE)

A construction worker lost his life just doing his job…..

Let’s honor this worker by doing better today. Tomorrow. For the rest of our careers.

Let your review serve as a wake-up call for you. For your team. For the contractors you work with.

Apply the knowledge on-site work today, next week, and this construction season.


(Thanks to the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health (eLCOSH) – A great resource of information.

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