Jabin Lakes, a Middletown, Ohio Public Works employee, was killed on May 7 from lack of oxygen when he opened a manhole cover, in preparation for sending a camera into the sanitary sewer line in front of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. Jabin Lakes had no plans to enter the sewer, but was kneeling at the edge, preparing to insert the remote camera. He passed out and fell some twenty feet into the hole.
The coroner’s office reported that Lakes died from a lack of oxygen, not from the fall itself. Three Middletown firefighters who were trying to rescue Lake were injured, but survived. The firefighters thought they were rescuing a fall victim, and did not monitor the air in the confined space prior to entering, nor did they wear self-contained breathing apparatus.
Evidently, a plume of nitrogen gas shot upward when the manhole cover was removed. Nitrogen displaces oxygen, and can cause unconsciousness in less than a minute. There are no warning properties.
The source of the nitrogen appears to have been leaks from pipes running from a nearby Air Products & Chemicals, Inc. plant to an AK Steel Corp. plant.
Take Home Messages:
- If you’re opening a manhole, even if you are not entering, test the air.
- Don’t stand directly over a manhole opening until the air has been tested
- Business operations in the area can cause hazardous atmospheres in the sewers.
For more information about this incident or needed confined space precautions, see the contact information at the CHESS website.