Two Workers Die from Hydrogen Sulfide Inhalation, Firm Fined $166,890

The workers died due to inhalation of hydrogen sulfide gas while cleaning an underground storm drain system at the recycling facility.

Cal/OSHA recently issued sixteen citations totaling $166,890 against Lamont, Calif.-based composting facility Community Recycling and Resource Recovery. The citations were issued as the result of an investigation triggered by the Oct. 12, 2011, deaths of two workers, aged 16 and 22. The workers died due to inhalation of hydrogen sulfide gas while cleaning an underground storm drain system at the recycling facility.

“This enforcement action represents a tragic example of what can go wrong when employers do not have proper safety procedures in place,” said DIR Director Christine Baker. “Workers are at risk of death or serious injury if employers have not provided adequate training or do not have a safety plan for working in confined spaces.”

Cal/OSHA initiated an investigation after being notified of the death of one worker and another in critical condition. Cal/OSHA identified the drainage system 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 The order was expanded on Nov. 2 to prevent any activity within 6 feet of the openings to the system and rescinded on Jan. 6 after the employer implemented a Confined Space Entry Program that met Cal/OSHA requirements.

“These young workers’ deaths were completely preventable. Hydrogen sulfide gas is a fatal and common byproduct of the composting process,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “Yet Community Recycling and Recovery failed to have proper procedures in place—identification and posting of all confined space hazards, training workers and supervisors, testing for dangerous levels of gas, and effective rescue procedures. These could have saved both workers who were not trained or provided adequate protection.”

The sixteen citations issued to Community Recycling addressed the company’s failure to have an adequate confined space program, including proper training, testing for atmospheric hazards, and rescue procedures. Twelve citations were issued for serious violations with five being accident related. Four of the citations were issued for general workplace safety violations.

A&B Harvesting, a farm labor contractor that provides workers to Community Recycling, was also cited for failure to train employees in the hazards of confined spaces.

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