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Cal OSHA: Two workers killed due to toxic gas exposure

It is extremely important for employers to take the necessary measures to protect their employees from serious work injuries. In fact, the failure to maintain a safe working environment can lead to significant repercussions, including an employee's workers' compensation claim, OSHA fines, increased workers' compensation insurance premiums and possibly an employee serious and willful misconduct lawsuit.

Unfortunately, a recycling plant in Kern County, California, may soon be dealing with some of these consequences following a tragic workplace accident that left two employees dead.

According to reports, Armando R., 16, and his brother Eladio R., 22, were cleaning a drainage tunnel at the Community Recycling and Resource Center in Lamont (just outside Bakersfield) last Wednesday when they were overcome by hydrogen sulfide fumes.

For those unfamiliar with hydrogen sulfide, it is a highly toxic gas that can cause severe damage to both the brain and central nervous system.

Here, the gas was a direct byproduct of the composting work being performed at the recycling plant - converting green waste and food waste into compost used in landscaping. However, plant officials are uncertain as to how the hydrogen sulfide managed to enter the drainage tunnel were the two men were working.

Authorities believe that Armando R. was overcome by fumes shortly after starting work in the 8-foot concrete drainage tunnel, and that Eladio R. was overcome by fumes when he attempted to rescue his brother further down the tunnel.

Tragically, Armando R. died at the scene of the industrial accident while Eladio R. died at the hospital a few days later after being taken off life support by his family.

Reports indicate that the two men were issued only rubber boots and painters' masks for cleaning the tunnel.

"Why don't they take precautions if they know it's dangerous?" asked a relative of the two men. "They don't give them the right equipment. It upsets me."

The incident is now under investigation by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal OSHA), and the U.S. Department of Labor due to Armando R.'s young age and the fact that he may have submitted false identification papers to work at the plant.

It is worth noting that Community Recycling and Resource Center has received no prior citations from Cal OSHA officials for work injuries or unsafe conditions.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Names have been withheld to protect the identity of the parties.

Sources:

CBS News, "Teen killed when overcome by fumes at Calif. plant" Oct. 14, 2011

The Bakersfield Californian, "Second worker in industrial accident dies" Oct. 15, 2011

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