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Cal OSHA hands recycling company fine of nearly $170,000 for 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 devastating consequences, including workers' compensation claims, OSHA fines and increased workers' compensation insurance premiums.

To illustrate, a recycling/composting plant in Kern County, California, is now dealing with some of these consequences following a tragic workplace accident that left two employees dead.

Back in October, our blog reported on how 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) -- 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.

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

In recent developments, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced just last week that it was issuing Community Recycling 16 citations -- 12 for serious violations and 4 for general workplace violations -- and fines of nearly $170,000.

"These young workers' deaths were completely preventable," said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess in a released statement. "Hydrogen sulfide gas is a fatal and common byproduct of the composting process. Yet, Community Recycling and Resource Center failed to have proper procedures in place."

Specifically, Cal/OSHA investigators uncovered some of the following violations during their inspection:

  • Failure to provide proper training to both supervisors and workers
  • Failure to have effective rescue procedures
  • Failure to test for dangerous levels of gas
  • Failure to provide adequate safety equipment to prevent serious or fatal work injuries
  • Failure to identify all confined space hazards

Community Recycling has already indicated that it is planning to appeal the Cal/OSHA citations.

It is worth noting that Cal/OSHA will provide the Kern County District Attorney's Office with the results of its investigation and that criminal charges remain a possibility.

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:

KBAK, "Family blasts Cal/OSHA investigation, says company is getting away with murder" March 21, 2012

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

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