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Workers in confined spaces face toxic gas threat

Toxic gasses are the primary threat to workers in Pennsylvania and around the country who perform their duties in confined spaces. After investigating the circumstances surrounding 670 confined space workplace deaths, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that atmospheric hazards played a role in about 56 percent of them. The most common dangerous gases found in confined spaces include carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide according to NIOSH.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines confined spaces as areas with restricted access that are not designed for prolonged occupancy but are large enough to perform work assignments. Examples of confined spaces include tanks, silos, storage bins and tanks. The agency requires employers to monitor the air quality in these areas frequently and keep them well ventilated. Toxic fumes can cause incapacity extremely quickly, which is why OSHA regulations call for trained rescue teams to be on hand when workers enter confined spaces.

Some confined spaces are so dangerous that a permit must be obtained before entering them. Permit-required spaces are known to contain potentially dangerous gases or substances that could engulf workers. Permits are also required when spaces are configured in a way that could disorientate workers and lead them into danger. OSHA requires employers to warn their workers about the hazards of entering permit-required spaces, which is normally done by posting conspicuous notices.

Employees injured in workplace accidents generally file workers' compensation claims, but they may also pursue personal injury lawsuits when their employers have willfully ignored OSHA safety regulations. While workers' compensation programs are designed to prevent this kind of legal action, attorneys with experience in this area could point out that exceptions are made when employers act with gross negligence. This is an act of recklessness so severe that injury or death were inevitable outcomes.

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