Danger of Inhaling Poisonous Vapours – Work in Confined Spaces

There are a number of risks associated with work in confined spaces, one such risk is that of inhaling toxic fumes especially in a confined space with little or no ventilation.

An incident that happened in London in 2009 is an example of why certain deadly chemicals should not be used in unventilated, confined spaces. A Dichloromethane containing agent was used by a workman involved in the restoration of a bathroom and resulted in the worker inhaling the toxic fumes and dying.

The victim, Colin Pocock was 55 years old when he was using an industrial paint and varnish remover to strip a resin coating from a bath at a housing association property in Wandsworth when he was overcome by fumes.

According to reports by PPConstructionSafety.com the stripping agent contained dichloromethane (also known as methylene chloride) a carcinogenic toxic chemical. The article describes how the fumes quickly built up in the confined space and the worker died at the scene as a result of over exposure. His body was found hourslater by the occupant of the flat.

Although this incident may seem like an isolated incident, tradesmen often work with dangerous, toxic chemicals and need to be aware of the risk associated and the control measures to overcome these risks.

It was later discovered that there wasn’t enough natural ventilation in the bathroom and mechanical ventilation equipment had also not been used to control the risk.

This article from PPConstructionSafety.com explains:

Multicrest Ltd, of Hampton, Middlesex, was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £56,286 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Steve Kirton said:

“This is a shocking death resulting from totally inadequate ventilation in the enclosed bathroom space in which Colin Pocock had to operate.

The risks associated with stripping agents containing dichloromethane are well known, yet he was exposed to lethal fumes with virtually no protection. Mechanical ventilation equipment is often a necessity, but all he had to rely on was a small open window, a basic mask and pot luck.

The use of substances that create toxic fumes must only be used where the fumes cannot build up and affect people, and the work must be properly planned and supervised – none of which happened on this occasion.”

The sentencing at Southwark Crown Court follows an earlier prosecution of Renubath Services Ltd (Multicrest’s franchising company) for identical failings linked to inadequate ventilation arrangements.

The company, now in liquidation, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £21,202 in costs at Westminster Magistrates Court on 30 May 2012 after also pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in proceedings brought by HSE.

Source: http://www.ppconstructionsafety.com/newsdesk/2013/05/28/workman-died-inhaling-paint-remover-vapour/

Although we cannot be sure in the incident above about whether the worker had received the appropriate training and instruction on how to work safely in a confined space, it demonstrates why workers in the construction industry need to undergo construction induction safety training before entering the building industry.

The White Card induction training teaches workers about hazards such as work in confined spaces and the control measures to minimise the risks associated with these hazards. Work in confined, unventilated spaces is just one of a myriad of construction hazards that could cause irreversible harm to workers or as it did in this case, result in their death.