Employees #1 and #2 were preparing to salvage a casino barge that was capsized during Hurricane Katrina. The employees were pumping water from compartments of a section of the barge. Employee #1 entered the aft rake compartment of the section and apparently was asphyxiated by fumes and drowned.
Employee #2 was looking for the missing employee, when he spotted his hard hat and personal flotation vest laying next to the opening to the aft rake compartment. Employee #2 went to the area and looked in. He saw Employee #1 floating face down in the compartment.
Employee #2 yelled for someone to call for an ambulance and subsequently entered the same compartment. He was also overcome by the fumes and drowned.
When the supervisor got to the opening, there was a strong smell of rotten eggs—hydrogen sulfide—coming from the compartment. The supervisor reported this to the first emergency services team that arrived on scene. The emergency services confined space team was called to the scene and entered the compartment after venting the space. Both employees were recovered, and they were dead.
What went wrong?
All employees working around any boats should be trained to stop before entering a closed compartment to smell the air for toxic gases, such as hydrogen sulfide, gas or diesel fuel, or propane. For salvage, where entering closed compartments is common, air quality measurement devices should be used. In addition, Employee #1 apparently wasn’t using his personal protection equipment (hard hat and flotation vest).