NIOSH ready to help prevent occupational fatalities in confined spaces – Lee

KOTA KINABALU: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has described as very unfortunate Monday’s incident in which three crew members died and three others required medical treatment after inhaling poisonous gas from a storage compartment of a fishing trawler at the Sepanggar jetty near here.

A pile of rotten fish kept in the storage chamber for more than 10 days had turned into fertiliser and produced toxic gas.

In the wake of the tragedy, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has urged on the fishing industry to create awareness and understanding of work in confined spaces among employers and workers to prevent a similar incident in the future.

NIOSH chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said in a statement yesterday awareness programmes such as seminars, dialogues or special training must now be held for various parties in the fishing industry including fishermen associations and small entrepreneurs.

He said hazards in confined spaces included toxic gas, particularly hydrogen sulfide (H2S) produced from a chemical reaction in the air trapped for a long time in an enclosed area.

“The recent accident in a confined space showed similar patterns in any industry involving fish fertiliser chamber, petroleum storage tank, boiler or manhole,”he added.

Characteristics of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S):

  • Highly toxic and can be fatal
  • Colourless
  • It is heavier than air and tends to accumulate in low-lying areas
  • It is flammable with a blue flame and its combustion produces sulfur dioxide gas (SO2), which is also toxic
  • Highly corrosive and causes corrosion on certain metals
  • At low concentrations, it smells like rotten eggs and can paralyze the sense of smell

And, Lee proposed that all industries should take serious steps to ensure that workers adhered to guidelines on the handling of tanks or storage spaces, whether to store fish fertiliser, petroleum gas, and others.

“Activities involving confined spaces may be seen as insignificant in the fishing industry, but such accidents can recur if lessons are not learnt.

“Therefore, shipowners, skippers and workers at the port or dock should have a basic knowledge of hazards in the workplace. They have the responsibility and right to health and safety at work for themselves as well as others,” he said..

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