Department of Labor Logo OSHA News Release - Region 4

April 10, 2024

US Department of Labor finds Florida contractor ignored federal safety measures that could have prevented welder’s confined space fatality

St. John’s Ship Building exposed workers to lack of oxygen

PALATKA, FL – As he had many other days, the morning shift welder arrived at 5 a.m. to work at St. John's Ship Building Inc. in Palatka on Aug. 28, 2023. Tasked with doing some fabrication work in a 4-foot by 8-foot space in a ship’s hull, the employee began work unaware that fatal suffocation would soon end his life.

Less than two hours after entering the ship, a supervisor found the unconscious welder and signaled for help, only to fall unconscious as well. A third employee appeared, alerting EMS and the Palatka Fire Department who soon transported all three workers to a nearby hospital. Despite emergency treatment, the welder died from a lack of oxygen. The supervisor and the third worker received medical treatment and were released.

Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined St. John’s Ship Building exposed workers to oxygen deficiency by sending the welder into a confined space without first testing the air for oxygen content. The presence of welding gas in the space created an oxygen-deficient atmosphere.

"Following proper maritime industry protocols could have prevented this worker from losing his life," explained OSHA Area Office Director Scott Tisdale in Jacksonville, Florida. "St. John's Ship Building must perform hazard assessments and implement safety procedures to ensure a tragedy like this does not recur. Every employer should make health and safety a core value in their workplaces."

In addition to a lack of oxygen, OSHA investigators found the shipbuilder also exposed workers to struck-by and crushing hazards by failing to conduct annual inspections of six cranes. The agency cited the company with four serious violations and has proposed $55,539 in penalties, an amount set by federal statute.  

St. John’s Ship Building Inc.'s operations are located near the St. Johns River in Palatka. Founded in 2006, the company has about 120 temporary and full-time employees. Since 2019, OSHA has inspected the company twice and found violations related to noise exposure for both inspections.

The company has contested the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 1,030 U.S. workers died from 2011 to 2018 from workplace injuries related to confined spaces. 

Visit OSHA's website for information on developing a workplace safety and health program. Employers can also contact the agency for information about OSHA's compliance assistance resources and for free help on complying with OSHA standards, including in industries such as maritime.

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Media Contacts: 

Erika B. Ruthman, 678-237-0630, 
Eric R. Lucero, 678-237-0630,

Release Number:  24-396-ATL (97)