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News Release USDL: 96-309
Wednesday, July 31, 1996
Contact: Susan Hall Fleming (202) 219-8151

OSHA Warns Against Asphyxiation Hazard Involving Decorative Water Fountain Pits

Pits at the bottom of decorative water falls and fountains often found in shopping malls can be deathtraps for workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns.

The agency recently issued a hazard information bulletin to its compliance officers alerting them to the asphyxiation risk posed by the pits, which house the control valves for the water fountains and falls. Workers entering the pits, which are covered by OSHA's standard on confined spaces, may be overcome if the atmosphere is deficient in oxygen.

In one case, an employee entered a fountain pit and descended seven feet to the bottom (of the pit) to adjust the valves controlling the fountain's water flow. He then lost consciousness, as did his partner who entered the pit to rescue him. A security guard and a passerby also attempted rescue but abandoned it because they became dizzy. The fire department was called, came and completed the rescue. Both employees were revived, treated, observed and released.

OSHA's investigation found that three of four pits at this particular mall had oxygen concentrations of less than 19.5 percent--the minimum acceptable level. In addition, carbon dioxide readings were more than double the OSHA permissible exposure limit. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health investigations have identified similar problems.

OSHA's confined space standard requires employers to evaluate spaces such as these pits to determine if they pose risks to employees. Those that are infrequently opened and/or contain sewer traps are likely to accumulate carbon dioxide and become oxygen deficient. The agency believes that many of the pits will require the use of special procedures outlined in the agency's permit-required confined space standard to protect employees who must enter them to perform maintenance on the fountains.

The hazard information bulletin, dated June 13, 1996 is available on the Internet at http://www.osha.gov under Other OSHA Documents, Hazard Information Bulletins. OSHA's permit-required confined space standard can be found on the Internet under Standards. Single copies of the booklet "Permit-Required Confined Spaces," which discusses hazards and outlines safety procedures, are available from OSHA Publications, P.O. Box 37535, Washington, D.C. 20013-7535. The hazard information bulletin also will be placed on an upcoming issue of the OSHA CD-ROM.


Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents

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