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Sewer Worker’s Death Investigated by OSHA

Death of Sewer Worker InvestigationStreamwood, Illinois – A 22-year-old Gurnee construction worker Brett Morrow died while installing a fiberglass liner in a sewer pipe that prevents leaks. The worker was fatally injured after being hit by a large horizontal pipe that blocked access of others to help the victim. Immediately after the accident, the injured worker communicated with others at the scene but was found unresponsive by emergency responders when they arrived.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is investigating the incident that trapped the injured victim about 25 feet into the pipe, making it difficult for rescuers to reach him to provide care. The sewer pipe liner became crumpled and hardened, which blocked access to Morrow. Rescuers from the Streamwood Fired Department cut the liner apart to successfully pull the victim out almost four hours after arriving at the construction site.

The village’s Fire Chief Chris Clark stated that “we were certainly hopeful that he would be viable. We operated as if it would be a rescue the entire time. It wasn’t until we had him removed that we were able to determine he was deceased.” The Fire Chief said that “it took some time to cut the lining material away so that technicians could get to the patient. Then we were able to remove the patient. It is very challenging, because it’s a very small space to work in, and there was a lot of safety equipment.”

The body was extricated from the sewer system by two specially trained Streamwood firefighters during a confined space rescue. Morrow’s remains were transferred from the accident scene under Park Blvd. near Parkside Circle to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office for further study. The initial autopsy did not rule on Morrow’s cause of death.

Safety Regulation Violations Perpetuated by Construction Company

The community leaders of Streamwood Village hired Benchmark Construction of Bartlett to complete the project of lining the town sewer pipes to extend their life expectancy. The company had been cleaning and relining the sewer system for days before the horrific fatal accident occurred. However, OSHA records indicated that the contractor had faced previous fines for violating safety regulations that date back to 2008. These violations included protective systems (November 2015 – $6300 fine), respiratory protection (December 2015 – $1000 fine), evacuation requirements (2008 – $1500 fine), and aerial lifts (2010 – $1250 fine).

OSHA spokesman Scott Allen indicated that the investigation into the incident could last six months and revealed that the agency “does have compliance officers at the scene, interviewing witnesses, talking to the employer and looking over safety records, trying to find out whether they were following proper procedures.”

An Ongoing Problem for Workers in Confined Spaces

According to the US Department of Labor, hundreds of injuries and deaths occur every year when workers become trapped and injured or suffocated. Recent events include:

  • November 17, 2016 – A worker is engulfed by material in the grain bin and suffocates.
  • November 30, 2015 – An employee working in demolition is crushed by a steel plate.
  • March 4, 2015 – A worker is engulfed by soybeans and dies.
  • July 14, 2014 – An employee falls into a hopper and dies.
  • March 27, 2014 – A worker is killed after becoming entrapped in a grain silo.
  • July 17, 2013– A worker dies after clearing an obstruction in a grain bin before the material draws him in.
  • June 24, 2013 – A worker is killed after being struck by a pipe.
  • June 19, 2013 – An employee is killed while working inside a grain storage silo.
  • April 5, 2007 – A worker dies of asphyxiation after being stuck in a freezer.
  • November 15, 2016 – A worker is killed after being crushed by pilings.

Dangerous Work Sites

Excavation and construction sites are potentially hazardous workplaces that can claim the life of employees by crushing injuries, suffocation, electrocution, falls and other dangers. OSHA categorizes crushing accidents as one of the “Fatal Four” deadly incidents. The categories include 40% of construction site accidents involve falls, 8.2% involve electrocutions, 8.1% comprise of being struck by an object, and 1.3% being caught between, caught in, or crushed by objects.

Most crushing accidents are the result of structural instability or lack of attention by those in charge of the construction site. When extremities are caught or crushed, they are often severely mangled causing significant nerve damage and broken bones. The affected extremity might be amputated or severely restricted from full use and mobility. These extreme injuries often impact the survivor’s livelihood while preventing them from performing routine tasks to manage everyday life.

Survivors of crushing accidents will often need lifelong care, ongoing medical treatment, rehabilitation, and therapy. Family members who lose a loved one in a construction site accident often require ongoing financial assistance if the decedent contributed to the household. In addition to receiving worker’s compensation benefits to pay medical bills and household expenses, additional assistance is often required.