Safety and OSHA News

Worker drowns in manure pit; OSHA issues fine, requires hazard abatement

A missing farm worker’s body was found in a manure pit after 10 hours of searching. OSHA has issued fines. 

On Feb. 16, 2016, Ruperto Vazquez-Carrera was last seen around 5:30 a.m. at the Sunrise Organic Dairy Farm in Hazelton, ID. Later in the morning, he didn’t show up to a different part of the dairy where he was supposed to be.

Someone noticed Vazquez-Carrera’s truck was submerged in a manure pond and called police.

The truck was pulled out, but the worker’s body wasn’t inside. It was 4 p.m. when divers pulled his body from the pit.

OSHA issued two citations:

  • a serious violation of the General Duty Clause because employees were exposed to immersion drowning hazards in an earthen holding pond, aka manure pit ($4,900), and
  • an other-than-serious violation of requirements to record employee injuries ($700).

Fines totaled $5,600.

Regarding the manure pit, OSHA said:

“Employees performing dairy cow feeding operations at various times during daylight and hours of darkness were exposed to an unguarded, unidentified non-enclosed manure pit. Employees drove feeding trucks along the edge (parallel) and straight toward (perpendicular) the edge of the manure pit.”

OSHA is requiring abatement of the hazard. The case isn’t yet closed.

A coroner’s report lists the cause of death as accidental drowning.

A sheriff’s lieutenant says it was apparent Vazquez-Carrera was trying to get out of the truck.

The worker’s brother is also a dairy employee and was there during the search. Vazquez-Carrera also leaves behind a wife and children.

In February 2015, a farm worker died in a similar manure pit drowning in Washington state.

In an interview with Boise Weekly, OSHA Area Director David Kearns said about half of the fatalities the OSHA Idaho office investigated in 2015 were workers for whom English was not their first language.

“They may fear deportation; they’re open to exploitation,” Kearns told Boise Weekly. “They’re afraid of the federal government and they don’t know the difference between OSHA and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”

Kearns said in this investigation, he tried to contact other farm workers but they didn’t return his phone calls. He sent letters via mail. “Hopefully they have someone to help them translate it,” Kearns said.

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