Before employers of California workers instruct employees to work in confined spaces, they have to abide by strict regulations as prescribed by OSHA. These regulations are in place to avoid a work accident that could result in severe injuries or even death. The company must apply for a special permit to allow work in confined areas.
Requirements for obtaining such a permit include ensuring that flammable vapors are monitored and proper ventilation exists. In addition, lighting provided must be of a non-electrical source to avoid ignition of flames, and workers should be provided with appropriate protective clothing. Areas classified as confined spaces typically provide no easy access or exit for workers. None of these regulations were followed when an industrial worker was instructed to paint the inside of a metal tank in December 2013, leading to an accident that was avoidable.
The employee suffered burn injuries that left him in the hospital’s burn unit for three days. The circumstances of the incident involved the man entering the metal tank carrying an electric lamp. He was apparently not provided with protective gear and proceeded to spray a coat of flammable material onto the tank’s inside walls. Dangerous vapors were emitted, and a flash fire was caused when the electric light and flammable vapors came into contact. The man was miraculously rescued before being overwhelmed by the fire.
While the employer of this work accident victim was penalized after an OSHA investigation, this incident may have caused a severe financial setback for the injured worker. Most California workers are covered by the workers’ compensation insurance fund and are likely eligible to claim benefits. Although workers’ compensation benefits do not cover damages such as pain and suffering, they typically compensate injured victims for medical expenses and a portion of lost wages. In cases where injuries involve long-term rehabilitation, the fund may consider additional compensation.
Source: ehstoday.com, "Flash Fire in Confined Space Prompts Cal/OSHA Citation", Josh Cable, July 1, 2014