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Questions remain over death of sewer worker during flood

Gustavo Briceno 25 died Wednesday night while working sewer Northwest Side. He is pictured with his wife SandrHernandez stepdaughter Heidi

Gustavo Briceno, 25, died Wednesday night while working in a sewer on the Northwest Side. He is pictured with his wife, Sandra Hernandez, stepdaughter Heidi Hernandez, 8, son Jowell, 4, and daughter Chanel, 3.

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Updated: September 21, 2013 5:21PM

It’s a dark, cramped and sometimes frightening work environment.

But if all precautions are taken when workers are down in the sewers, it should be safe, one expert said.

Many questions remain as to why Gustavo Briceno, a crew foreman, died Wednesday night. The father of three, who worked for Kenny Construction, was relining a sewer near Elston and Rockwell when he was swept away by rising water as torrential rain flooded the area.

Fire officials found his body, clad in a wetsuit, a block away in the sewer near Barry and Rockwell, authorities said.

Former Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector Terry Krug said training and equipment should have prevented such a tragic occurrence. The employee then should have used any equipment and followed whatever training his employer provided to make sure he stayed safe, Krug said.

“Kenny Construction has been doing this for many, many years and they should have a good program in place and they should also police that program to make sure that everybody follows their policy,” Krug said.

In a statement, Kenny said the safety of its employees is a No. 1 priority.

“Kenny has a long-standing, well established safety program that encompasses training, detailed safe work plans including job hazard analyses for specific types of work and regular inspections,” the statement said.

But Krug said it’s common for officials in charge of the work to monitor weather and other hazards to prevent any problems.

And although the cause of the tragedy remains under investigation, Kenny said in its statement that weather is always a concern.

“We always monitor weather very closely. We have established protocol in place for employees to step away from the project any time there is a change in conditions,” the statement said.

An OSHA spokesman said the agency is looking into the circumstances of 25-year-old Briceno’s death.

Krug, an expert on safety requirements of working in confined spaces, said sewer crews usually work in groups. They’re typically wearing a harness with a “life line” that allows for a quick rescue in case of an emergency.

“If they’ve got a chance they can be swept down the pipe, down the sewer system, down the waste water recovery system, then they probably should be attached,” Krug said.

It’s unclear if Briceno, of Glendale Heights, was properly wearing his harness while working earlier this week.

Kenny did not confirm or deny whether Briceno was wearing the harness in its statement. The company said the investigation is in its early stages and will take months to complete.

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles

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