Confined spaces can be very spooky places. With inhabitants like molds, creepy crawlies and deadly gases, it’s easy to see why: they’re among the harshest places on the planet.
A rural Maine community experienced this firsthand when Winfield Studley and Richard Kemp, two workers with Stevens Electric and Pump Services, suddenly went missing on the job.
The two had spent the morning draining and servicing a flooded sewage tank connected to a local inn. At some point over the course of the day, other workers on site noticed that Kemp and Studley had disappeared. That wasn’t unusual in itself, but something seemed off. The sewage tank had flooded again and Kemp’s truck was still in the parking lot. When an inn employee reported Studley and Kemp missing, everything finally added up. They could only be down in the hole.
When emergency personnel arrived, they began removing debris from the flooded tank. Soon into the process, a body bubbled up from the sludge, confirming everyone’s worst fears.
Though Studley and Kemp had extensive experience working underground, both bodies were recovered without respiratory protection. A subsequent coroner’s report found that Kemp and Studley succumbed to “hydrogen sulfide toxicity in a confined space with terminal inhalation of sewage.” As we learned a while back, every sewer environment poses a hydrogen sulfide risk, which is why it’s always important to test with a gas monitor and provide ventilation when necessary. Remember that even the most experienced among us must observe safety procedures when working in confined spaces.