Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.
In fairness to all, we don't discuss pricing on the Wall. Thanks for your cooperation.
Need to contact us? Visit

Tidbit #5: a guessing game

Try to guess the number of Hazards in the following scenario:

People call because it smelled "gassy" in their house, then smelled like electrical wires burning, and now they HAVE NO HEAT.

Propane Boiler is about 50 years old, located in a four-foot crawlspace accessed by old-time cellar door cover where you crawl down a couple steps. Totally full of mud, a little water here and there. Slither back to the boiler, find a five-gallon bucket sunk in the mud next to the boiler, with an electrical outlet over the top of it, and a disconnected garden hose leading outside. Wires inside the boiler jacket and the aquastat, gas valve, etc, are all charred; not much insulation left. Old cloth-covered wire with a tiny aluminum ground feeds this beast, and is spliced with tape into other circuits. So I crawls back out and find the panel, maybe two fuses and a switch. Slither back down, gotta run an extension cord from the garage now for light, and find that the water line had risen to just above the top of the burners, but not to the pilot! So the gas would bubble out of the water and burn here, there, anywhere. Seems as though the heat exchanger was completely plugged with soot, as well, so not too much flame was actually going thru the heat exchanger. Luckily the crawlspace was not too airtight.



  • Jean-David BeyerJean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,530
    Please tell me you were making this up.

    Or at least that it is a composite list of 25 years of experience, or something.
  • PlumdogPlumdog Member Posts: 873

    You can't make stuff like that up.... after 40 years of this "stuff"; that one still takes the cake!
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732
    crawlspace safety

    What if there had been CO, LPG within the flammability limits, or hot electrical where you would be electrocuted?

    We should not be entering these spaces without a personal CO/ LEL/ O2/H2S alarm and a PASS such as firefighters wear. You described what OSHA would consider as a 'confined space' which warrants a written safety plan, pull a permit, and special gear, not to mention a helper. We must be nuts to enter these spaces routinely.
  • Larry (from OSHA)Larry (from OSHA) Member Posts: 677
    confined space

    Bob, you raise a good point.  That crawlspace that Plumdog describes would very likely be a permit required confined space.  As you said, routinely entering places like that should make you pause and re-think what you might encounter.  The actual OSHA definition of confined space and permit space is copied below.  Entering a permit space does require jumping through a few hoops first.

    "Confined space" means a space that:

    (1) Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work; and

    (2) Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit (for example, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, and pits are spaces that may have limited means of entry.); and

    (3) Is not designed for continuous employee occupancy.

    "Permit-required confined space (permit space)" means a confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics:

    (1) Contains or has a potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere;

    (2) Contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant;

    (3) Has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section; or

    (4) Contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard.

    Be safe.

  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,582

    You have to have a permit to enter a crawl space? Who issues the permit? Where does one obtain the permit? What costs are associated with the permit (direct)? Does an inspector come out to watch the entrance? How much time between applying and receiving? Who is going to pay for all of this?

    Gee, I can't understand why people don't bother to take out permits...

    Not condoning the practice, just asking questions.

    "I'm sorry Mrs Smith. You're going to have to evacuate your home because its going to take me 3 days to obtain a permit to access your crawl space to see whats going on down there. No, your homeowners insurance probably will not cover the cost of displacement, permits or repairs. You'll just have to figure it out for yourself.." So much for free estimates...

    This reminds me of the "Hot Work" permits required in Denver. Technically, we are not allowed to do ANY work in a commercial building where we would be working with open flame, without first having obtained a "Hot Work Permit" from the Fire Department, and they are required to come to the job site for a pre work inspection. Care to guess how many "Hot Work Permits" are issued every year in Denver? Probably close to the same number of confined space access permits...

    Gosh, I don't know WHY so many people are frustrated with our system of government.

    And no offense meant to you Larry. I know you are just doing your job, but what ever happened to common sense? Where do we draw the line?

    I hate being protected from myself...

    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • Larry (from OSHA)Larry (from OSHA) Member Posts: 677
    Those pesky gubamint workers

    Hey Mark,

    Just when you thought it was safe to light that torch, more darn regulations. 

    Actually, the permit required confined space regulation includes lots of common sense stuff for keeping you and your workers alive.  Please Google 1910.146 and you will find out more than I can possibly put in words.  Or talk to Dave Yates about it.  He and I have traded a few emails over time about the ins and outs of going into questionalble places. 

    As far as those permits go, you make your own, you fill it out yourself and you don't spend anything or wait for some inspector type to show up and say "Go forth and work". 

    And trust me, I take no offense to your reaction.  As far as "common sense" goes, I've really tried to stop using the phrase because what's common for you and me isn't so common for someone else.  Over the years I've seen lots of things where you just scratch your head and think what the heck was that guy thinking when he stuck his hand in there (or whatever)  So what I think about this particular topic is that there are plenty of steps that can be taken to make sure that it is safe to go or do whatever and the OSHA regs provide a framework and some guidance to follow. 

    Actually, the points that Bob Harper makes about testing before entering kind of follow what I seem to remember someone here saying more than once.  If you don't test, you don't know. 

    I think that Bob's point and certainly mine is to get people to think first about what could be waiting for them on the job site.  It seems very apparent that the vast majority of boiler rooms, crawl spaces or whatever aren't just waiting to kill the next unsuspecting person who enters, but I suppose it's not a bad idea to think about what you might find.

    So thanks for your comments and I'm always up for having any conversation where we might learn something from each other.  I've gotten a good deal of education from you over the years and always appreciate your perspective.

  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    Here we go again. Blame the Gub'ment.


    I fly to work Monday through Friday and back home. I know that the pilot that is flying the plane is licensed by the FAA and has recently passed a Class 1 medical certificate, that he has no medical conditions that could cause him to not handle the aircraft. The aircraft has passed all required inspections and is current on any airworthy issues. In over 7000 trips in thirteen years, I have never been in a plane that had a mechanical, that caused any loss of control or forced landing. The air traffic controllers that keep us separated are FAA qualified. Atmospheric conditions are known and the pilots are all fully qualified and certified to fly in any meteorological conditions.

    On what WE do. There's an old State of Maine story about the old farmer who had funny tasting water. He called out the health inspector who noticed that his well was awfully close to his septic tank. The old farmer decided that he needed the well more than the septic tank, so he stopped using the toilet. A week later, the well went dry. Is that what we want? Where I live, all the towns have municipal water and have had it for many, many years. So, they all have very small lot sizes. 5,000 sq. ft is large. Cesspools were side by side. With the new septic regs, many lots are illegal but lots with a well can not keep well/disposal separation legal. Town water keeps people from having to drink their and their neighbors swill.

    The former plumbing inspector where I work, refused to inspect plumbing and gas piping in a crawl space without adequate access. Climbing down on a wooden job saw horse was out of the question and he DEMANDED (as the code says) that adequate and safe means of egress be provided. No egress, no pass inspection. And a 30" X 32" hole in the floor of a closet, filled with crap isn't adequate access. Ever want to be  fire-person with an air pack and go down a hole like that? With no working lights, if there are any lights, in a 20 YO house with a 24" high crawl space? That's all illegal. I've been under houses where I had to dig under the carrying beam to get to the other side. Someone saved a lot of money by leaving off a few courses of blocks on the foundations.

    The manufacturers we buy our products from, don't want regulations. Except when something blows up, people are killed or injured, and they get sued. Then, they are more than happy to have US, The Gub'ment make regulations where if you don't do it, the manufacturer gets a pass and the responsibility is on us.

    Judging from some of the really stupid questions I sometimes see here, I wonder who is doing what, out there and who, like me, will end up dealing with it.

    More to come.
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732
    before OSHA vs with it

    Growing up in the family business building homes, I saw and committed practices that today would get you a hefty fine from OSHA. We didn't have a lot of workplace injuries but there have been enough around the country to warranty many, if not most of the regs. the CFR. I hate the notion of all these overboard OSHA regs. but being involved with the safety of an entire $.5 billion company sitting in on weekly conference and NetGoto-type meetings, I do see where these things go wrong and often with tragic consequences. It's not just how many guys got a boo-boo or went to the ER but how many went home that night. The 10 Hr course was an eye-opener for one of those know-it-alls who took the course because he should/had to. Now, I recommend it to everyone involved in construction and service industries. Note that the 10 hr. course is just a primer--it does not make you a safety authority. It should whet your appetite to learn more and here's the key: frequently and consistently. You must have a safety plan, work the plan, evaluate the plan and revise it frequently or as driven by incidents.

    As for confined spaces, basements, and working in dungeons, rooftops, suspended ceilings, etc.: We know a LOT more than we did when I was a kid. So why do we ASSume those practices of the '60s are still adequate today? First of all, technology and construction is constantly leading to new and more efficient ways to hurt and kill the unwary. But I mean, how responsible are we to send employees out into these areas without a 4 in 1 personal gas alarm? Your required daily service truck walk-around inspection for DOT includes sounding the horn. Is that more important that the air you breathe or work in? Ask yourself of all the hazards you encounter in a routine workday, which are the most likely to kill or maim, then write a plan to address that hazard with avoidance, mitigation and PPE followed by what is your response if things do go wrong. By that, how do you propose for a rescuer (to be named by you) to ascertain if it is safe enough to enter where the fallen is, make an assessment, and extricate him if he is not entangled or requires spinal precautions. If not, do you have 911 service where you work? It wasn't working in the Adirondacks where I was last weekend and no landlines. How far is your local EMS and are they basic only or do they have advanced life support (paramedics)? BTW, I'm a retired paramedic/ firefighter and I've been in more places I now know I had no business being in such as hazardous vapor clouds, downhill slippery slopes, drowning/ suffocation hazards, Haz-Mat spills, crazy armed people, etc.

    OSHA regs are MINIMUM stds. You can exceeed them. If your hazard assessment indicates increased preparation, planning, protection, PPE, support personell and equipment, then do it. Back when I first got into chimney sweeping on my days off, my mentor was jumping from rooftops up onto chimneys just to install a lousy cap. I asked him and myself was my life worth the price of that cheap cap? Now, I use a LOT of ladders and adjuncts or I don't go. I'll leave Spiderman to the comics. BTW, my low level CO monitor alerts everyday in traffic--think about it.
  • Mark EathertonMark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,582
    Larry and Bob...

    I understand your reasoning, and I also understand that it is directed at the masses. A $5 billion dollar company has a LOT of moving parts, and associated liability.

    I'm thinking on a micro scale. I'm a 1 man shop. Common sense starts and stops with me. I can't afford to expose my self to any more hazards than necessary, and I can pick and choose where I do expose myself to. Heck, I'd have to hire someone to be my rope/retrieval man. Will work for beer?

    I just don't think that all of the legislation in the world is going to save some people from themselves. And when it comes to small one man shops like mine, the government doesn't care. What's applicable to GE is applicable to ME....

    Sorry for the rant. I'm just tired of red tape and over governance. Guess its getting close to time to completely retire, and not have to worry about that stuff any more ;-)

    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • Jean-David BeyerJean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,530
    Is there hope for the human race?

    Sometimes I do not think so.

    It seems to me  that lots of laws are passed because of things that, if common sense were applied, would not need laws at all. But there is nothing so rare as common sense.

    And even when the laws are passed, there are those who do not obey them. "It is my own house: I can do whatever I want. I do not need a permit to do work on my own house." And it blows up, or kills everyone in it with CO. Or backflow sickens everyone. Or there is 120 volts between the hot and the cold water taps.

    And if those in charge of enforcement also lack common sense, they can do more harm than good.

    My uncle, an engineer (among other things), once said that while you could make something fool proof, you could not make something goddam fool proof. And there seem to be a lot of those out there.
  • Tim McElwainTim McElwain Member Posts: 3,893
    Well this sure is interesting. . . .

    as someone who has answered thousands of service calls while with a gas company I would if I followed all the rules and regs posted here have not gone into 50% of the places I did. We left it up to the service man to make his own decision as to entry. Dog poop, sewage, dobermans etc usually made that determination pretty straight forward. What is OSHA's rule on rattlesnakes that crawl out of their container and are sitting above the gas meter. The problem was a broken gas line spewing raw gas Hmmm.

    Roof tops with 4 feet of snow on them, crawl spaces with sand fleas, rats,

    How about no cellar stairs and no lights to see no stairs and the stairs were there yesterday when I was there.

    Permits at midnight when they have no heat, it is freezing outside and there is illness in the house, hey you will have to wait for tomorrow after I pull the permit.

    That on top of the fact that the company that I was responsible for training in the last five years I was there did not have a lost time accident. They won the New England Gas safety award three straight years.

    The rule as always is BE CAREFUL, when people are properly trained and know when to go in and when not to they stay safe.

    I know folks are trying to make the work environment as safe as possible but lets not get carried away.
  • Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732
    reactionary replies

    Look, no one hates too much government more than me and OSHA is certainly high on my list of agencies that can go overboard. However, if you re-read my post you will see I'm not advocating extremism but balancing a model world with reality. All I'm saying is we need to be more aware of the places we are sending our people into, do more to plan and prepare just in care something goes wrong, and have the written plans and PPE to meet OSHA compliance as reasonably as practical.

    As for late nite calls the code allows 24 hrs to pull permits on emergency cases. Besides, how often do crews really need to work all night to install a new heater that could not be postponed a day using portable electric heaters in a few rooms then do the job under more controlled conditions during normal business hours when supply houses are normally open? Sure, utilities have to respond at all hours but I'm talking about contractors.

    About a year ago there was an HVAC contractor on another site who told how he entered a crawlspace with LPG fired equipment that had a leak and he was badly burned when he entered the combustible vapor cloud undetected and lit a pilot. He had to self extricate while badly burned out in a rural area.

    It is my personal opinion that for a contractor to send his people into confined spaces with no personal 4 gas alarm,no non-contact voltage detector,  no written safety plan, and no helper outside of the space is negligent and callous.
  • Larry (from OSHA)Larry (from OSHA) Member Posts: 677
    How do you know - What do you do?

    First of all, thanks to Bob for all his well spoken comments.  You do a better job of vocalizing this than I can.

    From my point of view, training that provides an understanding of the hazards that someone could encounter and how to deal with them is essential.  We even have regulations that require as much. 

    That HVAC guy that blew himself up that Bob talked about could have avoided all of that if he had enough training and the tools to assess the hazards in front of him. 

    This conversation has mostly focused on what might be considered confined spaces.  Bottom line is who ever has to deal with going into some funky crawl space or where ever, needs to have the tools (training) to assess the situation and decide how to handle it. 

    From where I sit, there is no situation, no - no heat call, no -  no hot water call, no -  have to enter a pit for an inspection of a piece of equipment to satisfy some code (ie. reduced pressure zone device) or what ever that exposes either an employee or an employer to hazards that need to and can be dealt with to prevent something bad from happening.

    Tim, there is no specific rule on rattle snakes but there is industry recognition of critters as a hazard to deal with in the confined space regulation.  What you do with them, I don't know, but the worker should.

    Bob, as far as permits go, if we are talking about OSHA confined space permits, there are no limitations like a 24 hour rule or something like that.  If you need to enter a permit space, you fill out your own permit and do what you need to.  If you are talking about something else, I obviously don't know what that is.

    Every one here has the best interests of their people in their hearts and would feel really really bad if one of their own got hurt or killed.  The OSHA rules give the guidance to help prevent that.  From my experience, most business owners don't want some government schmuck to tell him how to run his operation, but most understand that we (us government schmucks) are only trying to prevent an injury or worse.

    I am off my soap box now but am always available to answer questions about OSHA rules or whatever.

    As always, thanks to Dan.  This continues to be the best community on the web.

  • Bob HarperBob Harper Member Posts: 732

    Larry, the issue of permits within 24 hrs was referring to pulling a permit up to 24 hrs  after performing a replacement of equipment under emergency conditions such as 'no heat' during extreme cold. The International Building Code recognizes situations will arise where a contractor needs to replace heating equipment after hours when there is insufficient time to pull a permit and get approval first, Therefore, the Code allows a contractor to perform the repair to the extent necessary to alleviate the emergency conditon such as providing adequate heat for health and to prevent pipes from freezing buying time until the contractor can get down to the building dept. to pull the requisite permit(s). The Code is not so inflexible that it presumes you would make someone suffer from cold exposure and possibly cause burst pips from freezing just because it was after hours and you didn't have a permit.

    The key word in this entire discussion is 'reasonable'. Do what is reasonable that a reasonable and prudent person under similar circumstances would do to mitigate hazards both recognized and perceived. If a reasonable person could expect the possibility of  certain hazard under similar circumstances then you have an obligation to plan on how to deal with the hazard then provide the appropriate training and PPE as needed. It would not, for instance, be 'reasonable' to assume a hazardous condition could be caused by aliens from outerspace zapping a technician with his ray gun or that his space craft will zap the local dam causing a flash flood that could trap you in a crawlspace. It probably is reasonable to assume there is the real possibility of fugitive LP gas within the flammability limits in a crawlspace where an LP gas line transits that space and that space is under ventilated. Therefore, you should make some sort of plan on probably testing the space to ascertain if it is suitable for entry, plan on what person with what training is allowed in that space, to provide a helper who remains outside of the space where they can summon help or send in tools and materials, provide a personal alarm that senses the gas hazards that could reasonably be expected to be encountered such as combustible gases, CO, hydrogen sulphide and low ambiet O2. You might come into proximity of improper wiring that has unprotected ends yet is stil engergized so maybe carry along a working non-contact voltage detector. If the worker gets incapacitated, he might be able to call for help if he brought his cell phone with him. If the worker gets incapacitated, there should be a plan on how to extricate him. This does not sound unreasonable to me. BTW, most basements I enter have some level of CO and most have vent connectors not secured mechanically to where an incidental inadvertent bump could disloge the pipe spilling raw CO into the space.
  • Larry (from OSHA)Larry (from OSHA) Member Posts: 677
    Oh, those permits

    Ok Bob,  I get kind of narrow focused when talking permits and such and automatically think OSHA stuff. 

    I think you and I think along the same lines pretty much.  Although, I don't think I ever would have thought of space aliens as a likely hazard either.  I did watch Independence Day last night for the umptheenth time and  still enjoy that movie!

    So, if you have some guys working for you, I think they are fortunate to have a boss as considerate as you.  You have the kind of attitude i prefer to encounter in my inspections.

    Thanks for the good conversation.

  • RobGRobG Member Posts: 1,850

    I don't know about you all, but I think we need less government interference with permits and MORE congressional hearings on steroid use in major league baseball!!!

  • billbill Member Posts: 429
    Dead on right Rob:)!!

    By the way, is that not Nick Nolte above your name?
This discussion has been closed.


It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!