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NEGLIGENCE SANS CONSEQUENCE: IL Worker Death from Toxic Inhalation Results in Measly $77,200 Fine


Illinois-based Phoenix Industrial Cleaning has been fined $77,200 and issued 28 citations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) following the death of a worker who was overcome by toxic vapors while cleaning a storage tank.  The 6,000-gallon tank had previously been used to store Methylene chloride.  The accident occurred in November of 2012.  

According to the Daily Herald:

On Nov. 29, 2012, 37-year-old Bernardo Martinez of Cicero was cleaning a tank at Sunnyside Corp. at 225 Carpenter Road in Wheeling. He was inside the tank up high on a ladder when he was apparently overcome by methylene chloride vapors and fell to his death, according to an OSHA news release.

Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac said the tank was 40 to 50 feet tall with one opening at the top that was about 28 inches wide.

When emergency crews arrived, Martinez was at the bottom of the tank, lying face down in “chemical sludge,” and fire officials were sure he was already dead.

In announcing the fines and violations, Diane Turek, OSHA’s director for the Chicago North Area Office in Des Plaines, claimed Phoenix Industrial Cleaning had failed in its responsibility to properly educate and protect its workers from the dangers of working with the colorless, odorless solvent:

“No job should cost a person’s life because of an employer’s failure to properly protect and train workers.  Phoenix Industrial Cleaning failed in its responsibility to evaluate working conditions and provide proper respiratory and personal protective equipment to workers cleaning storage tanks containing hazardous chemicals.”

Pheonix Industrial Cleaning now has 15 days to contest the citations, comply, or request a conference with OSHA.

The violations put forth by OSHA include:

Eighteen violations involve confined-space entry requirements, including failure to:

• Develop and implement a confined-space entry program for workers cleaning chemical storage tanks;
• Train workers on acceptable entry conditions;
• Provide testing and monitoring equipment for atmospheric hazards;
• Provide a means of communication between workers entering a confined space and the attendant;
• Provide rescue emergency equipment and a retrieval system to facilitate a no-entry rescue;
• Have proper entry-control permits; and
• Determine the proficiency of rescue service available to perform emergency rescue for exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Five violations involve OSHA’s respiratory protection standards, including failure to:

• Evaluate the respiratory hazards present and select appropriate respiratory protection based on such hazards;
• Provide a written respiratory protection program and train workers on such a program; and
• Conduct medical evaluations for workers required to use respiratory protection and proper fit-testing respiratory protection.

The worker death was not the first in which Phoenix Industrial Cleaning was involved:

In 2000, one Phoenix Industrial employee perished and another was hospitalized when both became engulfed in sugar while cleaning a silo.

According to OSHA’s account, the employees were cleaning and scraping a sugar silo. “They had entered the silo five times, but on the sixth entry they became engulfed in sugar,” OSHA reported. “They were rescued, but were engulfed a second time as sugar continued to pour out of the silo. Employee #1 died of asphyxia; Employee #2 sustained [asphyxia] injuries that required hospitalization.”

In that case, OSHA issued eight serious and one unclassified violation and proposed $15,200 in fines. The case was later settled as three serious and one unclassified violation and a $9,600 fine.

OSHA has inspected the company four times, the last time (prior to the November accident) in 2001. Two inspections resulted in citations for violating standards on confined spaces.

The chemical methylene chloride tops a list of chemicals under review from the Environmental Protection Agency.  OSHA has released several warnings about the dangers of the chemical which they consider a carcinogen. The use of methylene chloride is banned in several European countries.


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