Incident brings the importance of safety into the spotlight once again.


Three utility workers in the Florida Keys died this week after climbing into a manhole and being overcome by hydrogen sulfide and methane gas.

According to an article in the Miami Herald, Elway Gray, 34, Louis O’Keefe, 49, and Robert Wilson, 24, who all worked for a private contractor, were investigating reports of a sewage backup in Key Largo. Monroe County Sherriff Rick Ramsay says after the first man went underground and there was silence, the second man went in search of his coworker. After he too was overcome by fumes, the third man climbed into the manhole and also lost consciousness. By the time a firefighter made an attempt to save the three men they were dead, and the firefighter was also quickly affected by the poisonous gas filling the 15-feet-deep hole, which showed no signs of having any ventilation.

“We pulled the unresponsive firefighter out with the help of two sheriff’s deputies. He was nonresponsive. Not breathing. They used CPR and revived him,” Ramsay says.

Related: Florida utility recognized for water and wastewater achievements

None of the three utility workers were wearing masks or carrying air packs. Ramsay says the firefighter decided to enter the hole without an air pack as well because it wasn’t wide enough to fit both him and the equipment. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and OSHA are investigating the incident.

It’s the kind of story that has been told before in Treatment Plant Operator, but the message that is conveyed never becomes less important: Don’t take safety for granted. Workers should use the proper confined-space gear as well as a gas detector every time they prepare to enter a sewer. It’s easy to assume you’ll be fine without those items if you’ve climbed into a pipe and come out unscathed hundreds of times before. But all it takes is once.

Source: Miami Herald

Related: Florida utility recognized for water and wastewater achievements

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