Sewage worker rescued from manhole

A workman had to be rescued from inside a manhole Wednesday morning when he passed out after apparently inhaling a blast of methane gas. 

The man was working on a sewage pipe close to the Britannia roundabout in George Town when he lost consciousness. His co-worker attempted to come to his aid but started to become overwhelmed by the gas and had to be helped out of the manhole himself. 

Ambulance crews pulled the stricken man to safety and delivered first aid. Both workers were in a stable condition in hospital Wednesday afternoon. 

They were working for US Sewer and Drain, which has an ongoing contract with the Water Authority to “clean, televise and repair” some 50,000 feet of underground pipe in Grand Cayman. 

A spokesman for the sewage company described the incident, which took place at around 11 a.m. yesterday as a “freak accident” that could have ended in tragedy. 

He said, “I understand the guys were following the proper safety precautions. There was a rush of sewer gas all at one time. It was not a case of human error. Methane is odorless and colorless. He didn’t have time to react, it just hit him. 

“This could have been fatal, we are counting ourselves lucky.” 

He said part of the company’s job was to monitor footage from video cameras in the underground pipe system. Sometimes that involves going down the manholes to repair or move the cameras. 

He said the workers used special equipment to check air quality before entering the manhole, but were not required to wear masks. He said such accidents were extremely rare but not unheard of in the industry. 

A later statement from the Water Authority, which has overall responsibility for the sewage system, appeared to question whether safety protocols had been followed. 

“A detailed investigation will be carried out to determine why the normal safety equipment (gas monitors, safety harnesses, lanyards etc.) was not used in this instance, as the contractor’s workers are properly trained in safety procedures, and particularly OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) confined space entry,” the statement said. 

The injured man was an experienced worker and a volunteer firefighter and was aware of the dangers and procedures required to counter them, his employer said. 

The spokesman added, “We need to take a hard look at that particular line and see where that surge of gas could have come from. There is a lot going on underground in Cayman and we are there to make it better.” 

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The US Sewer and Drain van in front of the manhole following Wednesday’s rescue. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER
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