When a workplace here in Illinois is rocked by a fatal accident, investigators with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are dispatched to the scene to figure out what exactly happened and whether an employer’s conduct played any role. In the event any employer misconduct is indeed uncovered, the agency is authorized to hand down both citations and large fines.
To illustrate the breadth and depth of this authority, consider a recent case right out of the Chicago suburb of Wheeling, where a 37-year-old man was killed in a fatal workplace accident this past fall.
The accident occurred on Nov. 29, when an employee of Phoenix Industrial Cleaning was working inside a customer’s 40-foot tall tank. Specifically, OSHA investigators determined that the employee was overcome by methylene chloride vapors while working atop a high ladder and ultimately fell to his death.
OSHA investigators noted that while the employee was equipped with respiratory equipment while working inside the tank, it was not designed to protect workers from exposure to methylene chloride vapors.
Ultimately, Phoenix Industrial Cleaning was issued 28 serious safety violations and $77,200 in proposed fines by OSHA investigators. Serious violations are defined as existing when the “workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.”
Here, the 28 serious citations spanned everything from failing to protect employees from respiratory hazards and failing to follow rules for work in confined spaces to failing to provide fall arrest systems and failing to provide employees with information/training on methylene chloride exposure.
“No job should cost a person’s life because of an employer’s failure to properly protect and train workers,” said Diane Turek, OSHA’s area director in Des Plaines. “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.”
Please visit our workers’ compensation page to learn more about your rights and your options in the event of a serious workplace accident.
Source: The Daily Herald, “OSHA cites contractor in Wheeling tank death,” Doug Graham, May 13, 2013