OSHA investigating snowmaker’s death
KEYSTONE – Investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are looking into the death Monday of Keystone snowmaker Ben Bornstein.
Coworkers found Bornstein, 28, under water in a snowmaking shelter, tangled in pipes and valves. Coroner Dave Joslin said Bornstein died of asphyxiation by drowning.
“We were up there (Monday),” said OSHA area director Herb Gibson. “We’re going to be interviewing employees, management officials, reviewing their safety program, the process of how snowmaking is done. Eventually, we’ll come up with our conclusions.”
Gibson said the investigation won’t be complete for at least a month.
OSHA has specific rules for employees entering confined spaces, but Gibson said he has not yet seen the shelter and doesn’t know if it can be considered a confined space.
Snowmaking shelters are metal structures that contain valves for air and water pipes. The structures are about 5 feet in diameter and sit down in the ground about 4-5 feet deep.
OSHA’s Web site defines a space with limited means of entry or exit, large enough for a person to enter but not designed for continuous occupancy by an employee, as a confined space. If a confined space “contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant, has an internal configuration that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or a floor that slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross section, or contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazards,” OSHA considers it a permit-required confined space.
Defining a structure as a permit-required confined space opens the employer up to a set of OSHA requirements, including posting one person outside the permit space while an employee is inside it and procedures to follow during an emergency.
Keystone spokeswoman Dawn Doty said she does not know what, if any, rules may have applied to Bornstein and the space in which he was working.
“OSHA is working with the Sheriff’s Office now,” she said. “They will put out a report that will help us understand what happened.”
Snake River assistant fire chief Bruce Farrell said firefighters don’t know much about the circumstances surrounding Bornstein’s death.
“We’re not sure if he was down there alone, or if somebody was immediately available,” he said. “He has a partner he’s assigned to work with, but by the time we got up there, there were several people there. I know they (his coworkers on the mountain) found out about it right away and responded immediately to it.
“To this point, we’re not exactly sure what caused the water to start filling this hole. Hopefully, between the coroner’s office and OSHA, they’ll get to the bottom of that.”
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.
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