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Petroleum refiner fined after worker dies in confined space

Employers in New Jersey should be familiar with OSHA standards when it comes to having employees work in a confined space. OSHA requires that all hazards be properly evaluated, and it lays down certain safety standards that must be followed while the worker is in that space. The following illustrates what can happen when employers fail to uphold these standards.

A petroleum refiner and industrial contractor in Alabama have been fined $106,080 by OSHA after a worker had his air supply cut off in a confined space and died from asphyxiation. They now have 15 business days to act in response to the citations. They can agree to pay the fines, hold an informal conference with Birmingham's OSHA director or contest OSHA's conclusions with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA has cited the petroleum refiner for failing to identify all the hazards that were in the confined space and neglecting to document the required steps that must be performed to ensure employee safety in tight spaces. The refiner also did not ensure that the industrial contractor followed the Process Safety Management standard. The contractor was cited for not ensuring that employees outside of the confined space were able to engage in rescue efforts and providing insufficient lighting equipment to the worker in the space.

Under workers' compensation law, the family of someone who dies on the job may be reimbursed on a regular basis for a percentage of that person's weekly wage as well as for pre-death medical bills and the funeral and burial expenses. Workers' comp rules can be complicated, so families may want to see a lawyer before moving forward with a lawsuit. If a worker was injured, he or she may file for benefits that cover medical expenses; some lost wages; and if applicable, short- or long-term disability leave.

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