Last month in University Place, Washington, a worker survived a 3,500-foot tumble through a dark, slimy, smelly sewer pipe he was inspecting. The man went into an 85-foot-deep shaft to work on the sewer line and ended up trapped in a 4-foot sewer pipe with less than 18-inches of breathing room and 15,000 gallons of waste water per minute gushing around him.
For reasons that are currently unknown, the man disconnected from the safety harness he was wearing before slipping into the sludge. According to news reports, the worker was able to wedge himself at a bend in the line after tumbling and losing his footing multiple times. Rescue crews pulled him from the pipe after about half an hour in pitch black and raw sewage. Despite the number of things that could have happened, the man exited the pipe, exhausted, but only suffering from a split lip and broken tooth.
Although the experience of tumbling through sewage and being trapped in a confined space for 30 minutes was not pleasant, the consequences of disconnecting from safety equipment could have been far worse. Even as we celebrate the successful rescue of this worker, everyone involved should be questioning the circumstances that would lead to someone consciously working without fall protection. Situations like this reinforce the importance of 100% protection – you never know when an accident will happen. Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for their own safety.