Worker Dies in Chicago Sewer After Removing Safety Harness

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A 25-year-old Chicago sewer worker died on Sept. 18 after being swept away by heavy rainwater while working in a sewer pipe. Gustavo Briceno Jr. and another worker were in the sewer when the area in which they were working was hit by flash floods caused by heavy rain, according to local media reports. 

After about a 90-minute search, Briceno’s body was found in the pipe about a block away with the assistance of remote camera from the company, Kenny Construction. The man working with him was rescued from the 30-inch sewer line because co-workers at the surface were able to haul him to safety using his safety harness and rescue line. Briceno, a foreman on the job, had reportedly removed his safety harness in order to access a confined space in the 30-inch sewer line, which they were relining. The National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning for the area shortly before Briceno was swept away. 

OSHA’s investigation could take several more weeks, but its regulations and standards address the very risks encountered during this event.

  • Rescue harness: “Authorized entrants who enter a permit space must wear a chest or full body harness with a retrieval line attached to the center of their backs near shoulder level or above their heads. Wristlets may be used if the employer can demonstrate that the use of a chest or full body harness is not feasible or creates a greater hazard.”
  • Surge flow and flooding: “Sewer crews should develop and maintain liaison, to the extent possible, with the local weather bureau and fire and emergency services in their area so that sewer work may be delayed or interrupted and entrants withdrawn whenever sewer lines might be suddenly flooded by rain.” 

A company statement said all foremen are properly trained in OSHA standards, that the company monitors the weather, and that its protocols require workers “to step aside from the project any time there is a change of conditions.” The firm also noted that it is the only construction firm to earn the National Safety Council’s Green Cross for Safety. 

Briceno leaves a wife and three children, ages 3, 4, and 8, who he used to walk to school every morning.

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