BAKERSFIELD, Calif., March 22, 2012 /PRNewswire-HISPANIC PR WIRE/ -- Cal/OSHA today issued sixteen citations totaling $166,890 against Lamont-based composting facility Community Recycling and Resource Recovery. The citations were issued as the result of an investigation triggered by the Oct. 12, 2011 deaths of two brothers, Armando and Eladio Ramirez, aged 16 and 22. The workers died due to inhalation of hydrogen sulfide gas while cleaning an underground storm drain system at the recycling facility.
"This enforcement action represents a tragic example of what can go wrong when employers do not have proper safety procedures in place," said DIR Director Christine Baker. "Workers are at risk of death or serious injury if employers have not provided adequate training or do not have a safety plan for working in confined spaces."
Cal/OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), immediately initiated an investigation after being notified of the death of one worker and another in critical condition. Cal/OSHA identified the drainage system as an imminent hazard due to high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas resulting from the decomposition of food waste. Cal/OSHA investigators issued an Order Prohibiting Use barring worker access to the entire drainage system. The order was expanded on Nov. 2, 2011 to prevent any activity within six feet of the openings to the system, and rescinded on Jan. 6 after the employer implemented a Confined Space Entry Program that meets Cal/OSHA requirements.
The two workers were clearing debris from an obstructed ten foot shaft of the storm drain system. After Amando lost consciousness from exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas, his brother Eladio attempted to rescue him, only to lose consciousness as well. Armando Ramirez was pronounced dead at the scene, while Eladio died at Kern Medical Center on November 14, 2011 after being taken off life support.
"These young workers' deaths were completely preventable. Hydrogen sulfide gas is a fatal and common by-product of the composting process. Yet Community Recycling and Recovery failed to have proper procedures in place �identification and posting of all confined space hazards, training workers and supervisors, testing for dangerous levels of gas, and effective rescue procedures. These could have saved both workers who were not trained or provided adequate protection," said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. "This incident sharply underscores the need for greater awareness by all employers and workers of the dangers associated with working in confined space and the necessary safety measures to protect workers when and if they work in these spaces."
All sixteen citations issued to Community Recycling addressed the company's failure to have an adequate confined space program, including proper training, testing for atmospheric hazards, and rescue procedures. Twelve citations were issued for serious violations with five being accident related. Four of the citations were issued for general workplace safety violations.
A & B Harvesting, a farm labor contractor that provides workers to Community Recycling, was also cited for failure to train employees in the hazards of confined spaces. Eladio Ramirez was employed by A & B Harvesting when he died.
Cal/OSHA worked closely on this investigation with other federal, state and local agencies including the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Kern County's Department of Public and Environmental Health, the Planning and Economic Development Department, the County Fire Department and Coroner. California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su also opened an investigation into possible child labor law violations after Armando Ramirez was revealed to have been 16 years old.
A serious violation exists when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation, while a general violation is cited when an accident or occupational illness may not cause death or serious injury but would have a direct or immediate relationship to the safety or health of employees.
Following Cal/OSHA's investigation of the Community Recycling case and six other confined space fatalities in California, Cal/OSHA launched a Confined Space Emphasis Program in February to raise awareness for employers and workers of the serious, often fatal risks of working in confined space situations. This emphasis program includes consultation and outreach to employers, increased enforcement efforts to ensure that all employers have adequate confined space programs, and educational tools for employers and workers. Cal/OSHA has a Confined Space Website with extensive materials and information on the regulations\x97www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/confinedspace. A recorded Cal/OSHA webinar on confined space hazards is also available at that page.
Employers who would like to learn more about Cal/OSHA and preventing serious workplace injuries or deaths like these can get information at DIR's website, http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh. Cal/OSHA's Consultation Program provides free and voluntary consultation to employers to improve their health and safety programs. To utilize the free services of the Cal/OSHA Consultation Program, employers can call (800) 963-9424.
Employees with work-related questions or complaints can call the California Workers' Information Hotline at (866) 924-9757. Complaints can always be filed anonymously with Cal/OSHA.
SOURCE California Department of Industrial Relations, Cal/OSHA
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