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Alabama city not covered by OSHA safety rules

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
March 13, 2001
While York, Ala., officials try to find out how an apparent work-related accident last week claimed the lives of three of their employees, state officials say there are no regulations they could have imposed on work practices that might have saved these men.
Arthur Jones and J.D. Coleman died Thursday night at about 7:30 p.m., 21/2 hours after inhaling methane gas fumes from sewage in a manhole on Highway 11. Otha Hinson died Saturday. Another employee, David Webb, was in good condition Monday at a Tuscaloosa hospital, city officials say.
Dixie Beatty, an environmental scientist at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management in Montgomery, said methane, a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, is a byproduct of decomposing organic matter. It occurs naturally in marshes and swamps and is a fire hazard and asphyxiant.
While working around methane is "part of their (York officials') safety protocol," such work does not require a special environmental permit, Beatty said.
She said Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials would probably regulate what employees must do when working around methane gas.
John Burroughs, assistant director at OSHA's Mobile, Ala., office, said the city of York is in his geographic area, but OSHA has no authority over their work practices.
He said a similar situation arose in Bay Minette, Ala., and people were angered that OSHA officials could impose no rules.
He said an OSHA field inspector has talked to city and police officials in York. He said in some cases, there is a public safety official he can advise, which helps.
He said there are many dangers in underground and trench work, but said he could not say what practices might have saved these lives because he doesn't have details of the accident.
Anyone wanting more information about these risks and OSHA regulations can visit the agency's Web site at www.osha.gov.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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