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Region 1 News Release:   BOS 99-051
Monday, March 29, 1999
Contact: John M. Chavez
PHONE : (617) 565-2075

OSHA CONCLUDES INVESTIGATION OF NEW BEDFORD, MASS., FISHING VESSEL FATALITY; PROPOSES PENALTIES TOTALING $56,000 AGAINST THREE LINKED COMPANIES FOR ALLEGED SERIOUS SAFETY VIOLATIONS

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor has cited three New Bedford, Massachusetts, companies for alleged SERIOUS violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in connection with the death last October of the First Mate of the fishing vessel John N while it was docked in New Bedford harbor.

According to Brenda Gordon, OSHA's Area Director in Braintree, Mass., OSHA is proposing penalties totaling $56,000 against Atlantic Shellfish, Incorporated, Palex, Incorporated, and Southern Clam, Incorporated, all located at 15 Antonio Costa Blvd. in New Bedford. The companies are all headed by the same individual who operates out of Cape May, New Jersey.

Gordon indicated that the crew and captain of the F/V John N, including the deceased first mate, were all employed by Palex; while the crew of the F/V Misty Dawn worked for Atlantic Shellfish. Southern Clam is a land based company which runs the maintenance, repair and scheduling operations for a four-vessel fishing fleet, which includes the John N and Misty Dawn.

"Our investigation showed," said Gordon, "that on October 2, 1998, the first mate of the F/V John N died when he was exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas upon entering the previously sealed engine room 'void' space located between the vessel's clam tanks while trying to find a leaking pipe. Neither he nor the other employees from the other companies who tried to rescue him -- and were also exposed to the poisonous gas -- had been provided by the employer with the proper training or equipment to safely enter such an area, which we classify as a permit-required confined space."

Gordon explained that a "permit-required confined space" is defined by OSHA as a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics:

    (1) Contains or has a potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere;

    (2) Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant;

    (3) Has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section; or

    (4) Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard.

Consequently, Palex, Inc., is being cited for nine alleged SERIOUS violations, carrying proposed penalties totaling $25,200 for:

  • failing to provide appropriate respirators for two employees who entered the engine room void of the F/V John N and were overexposed to hydrogen sulfide gas; exposing employees to excessive airborne concentrations of the gas; and failing to have engineering controls in place to reduce the concentration of gas in the area. (One employee lost consciousness and died as a result of the overexposure, while other employees attempting rescue were injured.)

  • failing to evaluate the workplace (fishing vessel) to determine if any spaces were permit-required confined spaces; failing to post danger signs warning employees of the existence, location and danger posed by permit-required spaces.

  • failing to develop and implement a written permit-required confined space entry program.

  • failing to take adequate measures to prevent unauthorized entries into the engine room void where the hazards included: excess levels of hydrogen sulfide gas, oxygen deficiency and waste water which obscured tripping hazards and created a drowning hazard; failing to identify and evaluate the hazards of this permit-required confined space; failing to develop and implement the means, procedures and practices necessary for safe permit space entry operations; failing to provide employees with the proper and necessary equipment for safe entry into such an area; and, failing to test the conditions inside the engine room void before authorizing employee entry.

  • failing to provide at least one attendant outside of the permit space during the entry of an employee into a permit-required confined space.

  • failing to develop and implement procedures for summoning rescue and emergency services, for rescuing entrants from permit spaces, for providing necessary emergency services to rescued employees and for preventing unauthorized personnel from attempting a rescue; failing to identify to rescue personnel who had arrived on site that it was a hazardous confined space rescue; failing to provide the New Bedford Fire Department with access to the fishing vessel for practice confined space rescue operations; failing to require an employee entering a permit-required confined space to wear a harness with retrieval line attached.

  • failing to designate employees for permit space entries and provide them with the required training; and failing to ensure that authorized confined space entrants were aware of all potential hazards which could be faced upon entry.

  • failing to develop and implement a system for the issuance, use and cancellation of confined space entry permits; and failing to complete measures required by the confined space safety standard before authorizing employee entry.

  • failing to provide all employees engaged in permit-required confined space entry with all appropriate safety training; and failure to provide training to each affected employee before the employee was assigned to such duty.

    Atlantic Shellfish, Inc., is being cited for six alleged SERIOUS violations, including proposed penalties totaling $16,800, for:

  • failing to provide two employees from the F/V Misty Dawn with respirators before they were overexposed to hydrogen sulfide gas on the F/V John N; exposing employees to excessive airborne concentrations of the gas; and failing to have engineering controls in place to reduce the concentration of gas in the area. (One employee entered the engine room void, a permit-required confined space, to rescue a F/V John N crewman and lost consciousness. A second employee entered the void by reaching in to hold the unconscious employee's head above the waste water.)

  • failing to evaluate the workplace (fishing vessel) to determine if any spaces were permit-required confined spaces; failing to post danger signs warning employees of the existence, location and danger posed by permit-required spaces.

  • failing to develop and implement a written permit-required confined space entry program.

  • failing to provide at least one attendant outside of the permit space during the entry of two employees into a permit-required confined space; failing to develop and implement procedures for summoning rescue and emergency services, for rescuing entrants from permit spaces, for providing necessary emergency services to rescued employees and for preventing unauthorized personnel from attempting a rescue.

  • failing to designate employees for permit space entries and provide them with the required training; failing to provide all employees engaged in permit-required confined space entry with all appropriate safety training; and failure to provide training to each affected employee before the employee was assigned to such duty; and, failing to ensure that authorized confined space entrants were aware of all potential hazards which could be faced upon entry.

  • failing to require each employee entering a permit-required confined space to wear a harness with retrieval line attached.

  • Southern Clam, Inc., is being cited for five alleged SERIOUS violations, carrying proposed penalties of $14,000, for:

  • during rescue efforts, exposing three employees to excess levels of hydrogen sulfide gas.

  • failing to designate a competent person for the testing of hazardous atmospheres; and failing to maintain a roster of designated competent persons or a statement indicating that a Marine Chemist will perform tests and inspections.

  • failing to continuously monitor the air where three employees entered the engine room bilge containing excessive levels of hydrogen sulfide gas; and failing to provide respiratory protection to these employees.

  • failing to ensure that each employee entering a confined space was properly trained.

  • failing to establish a shipyard rescue team or to arrange for an outside rescue team that was familiar with the confined and enclosed space hazards on site.

"This was a tragic accident which could have been avoided," said Gordon, "if the three employers under common control in this case had taken basic precautions to ensure that their employees were properly trained and provided with appropriate personal protective equipment to deal with confined space situations. Above all, they should have developed and implemented a written permit-required confined space entry program as required by OSHA's safety standards. At the very least, this should serve as a wake up call to the owners of all fishing vessels which might have such spaces and voids in their structures."

Gordon urged Boston and Southeastern Massachusetts employers and employees with questions regarding safety and health standards to contact the OSHA area office in Braintree. She added that OSHA's toll-free nationwide hotline -- 1-800-321-OSHA (1-800-321-6742) -- may be used to report workplace accidents and fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, especially those situations which occur outside of normal business hours.

A serious violation is defined as one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

OSHA is empowered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to issue standards and rules requiring employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces and jobsites, and to assure through workplace inspections that those standards are followed.

The companies have 15 working days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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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.


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