Company Cited for Confined Space Entry Violations after Death of Worker

Confined Space EntryPhoenix Industrial Cleaning of Berkeley, Illinois was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 28 serious safety violations, including 18 for confined space entry violations, following the death of an employee on November 29, 2012. Bernardo Martinez, 37, of Cicero, fell from a ladder to his death while cleaning a chemical tank at the Sunnyside Corporation plant in Wheeling after being overcome by chemical fumes.

Rescue crews from numerous fire departments along with special rescue technicians attempted to rescue Martinez, who fell to the bottom of a 6,000 gallon, 50 foot deep tank with only a 28 inch wide opening, approximately the size of a manhole. Wheeling Fire Department Chief Keith MacIsaac said, “We assessed the air situation and found it to be an oxygen-deficient atmosphere, as well as charged with chemical vapors…It appears the individual was overcome by chemical vapors within the tank, based upon the limited chemical equipment that this individual was wearing.” The tank contained methylene chloride. Rescue personnel had to go through a decontamination process to remove the dangerous chemicals before leaving the site.

The eighteen serious violations involving confined space entry requirements included failing to develop and implement a confined space entry program for workers cleaning chemical storage tanks; failure to train workers on acceptable entry conditions; failure to provide equipment for testing atmospheric conditions; failure to have proper entry-control permits; failure to provide a means of communication between an attendant and workers entering a confined space; failure to provide emergency rescue equipment and a retrieval system to facilitate a no-entry rescue; and failure to determine the proficiency of rescue services available.

The company was also cited for serious violations involving OSHA’s methylene chloride standard, including failure to provide workers with information and training on the hazards associated with methylene chloride and assessing exposure. The company also failed to provide effective garments.

Five of the serious violations involved OSHA’s respiratory protection standards, including failure to evaluate the respiratory hazards present in the workspace and select appropriate respiratory protection based on the hazards; failure to provide a written respiratory protection program and train workers on such a program; failure to conduct medical evaluations for workers required to use respiratory protection; and failure to properly fit-test respiratory protection.

Phoenix Industrial Cleaning provides industrial cleaning of tanks, silos, cooking exhaust ventilation, and similar equipment at commercial and industrial work sites. The company received citations for violating standards on confined spaces after two of their four previous OSHA inspections. The last inspection of the company by OSHA was in 2001.

OSHA has proposed fines of $77,200 for the violations. Phoenix Industrial Cleaning has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Diane Turek, OSHA area director of the Chicago North Area Office in Des Plaines, said, “No job should cost a person’s life because of an employer’s failure to properly protect and train workers. Phoenix Industrial Cleaning failed in its responsibility to evaluate working conditions and provide proper respiratory and personal protective equipment to workers cleaning storage tanks containing hazardous chemicals.”