California Fines Composting Company in Worker Deaths

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) issued 16 citations totaling $166,890 against composting operation Community Recycling and Resource Recovery in connection to the death of two workers.

The citations against the Lamont-Calif.-based operation stemmed from the October 2011 deaths of brothers Armando and Eladio Ramirez. They died due to inhalation of hydrogen sulfide gas while cleaning an underground storm drain system at the recycling facility, according to a news release from the Oakland-based Cal/OSHA.

The two workers were clearing debris from an obstructed 10-foot shaft of the storm drain system. After Amando Ramirez lost consciousness from exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas, Eladio Ramirez attempted to rescue him, only to also lose consciousness.

Cal/OSHA determined the drainage system was an imminent hazard due to high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas resulting from the decomposition of food waste.

All 16 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.

A & B Harvesting, a farm labor contractor that provides workers to Community Recycling, also was cited for failure to train employees about the hazards of confined spaces.  Eladio Ramirez was employed by A & B Harvesting when he died.

"This enforcement action represents a tragic example of what can go wrong when employers do not have proper safety procedures in place," said Christine Baker, director of the state Department of Industrial Relations. "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."

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