Cal/OSHA has issued 16 citations totaling $166,890 to a recycling company in connection with the deaths of two brothers in a storm drain system.
Armando and Eladio Ramirez, aged 16 and 22, died on Oct. 12, 2011, after inhaling hydrogen sulfide gas while cleaning the storm drain at a Community Recycling and Resource Recovery facility.
All 16 citations addressed the company’s failure to have an adequate confined space program, including failure to have:
- proper employee training
- testing for atmospheric hazards, and
- rescue procedures.
The two workers were clearing debris from an obstructed ten-foot shaft in the storm drain system. After Armando lost consciousness from exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas, his brother, Eladio, attempted to rescue him, only to lose consciousness as well. Armando was pronounced dead at the scene. Eladio died in a hospital on Nov. 14, 2011, after being taken off life support.
Cal/OSHA identified the storm drain as an imminent hazard due to high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas resulting from the decomposition of food waste. Investigators issued an Order Prohibiting Use barring worker access to the entire drainage system. The order was expanded the next month to prevent any activity within six feet of the openings to the system. It was rescinded after another two months when Community Recycling implemented a confined space entry program that met Cal/OSHA requirements.
A&B Harvesting, a farm labor contractor that provides workers to Community Recycling, was also cited for failure to train employees about the hazards of confined spaces. Eladio Ramirez was employed by A&B.
California’s Labor Commissioner has also opened an investigation into possible child labor law violations after it found Armando Ramirez was 16.
Following this incident 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 about the serious risks involved in confined space work. Cal/OSHA’s website has informational and training materials on confined space on its website (click here).