Recycling firm fined in poisonous gas deaths
The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued more than $166,000 in fines Wednesday against a prominent recycling and compost company than runs a Kern County site where two brothers died last fall from exposure to poisonous gas while cleaning a drainpipe.
“These young workers’ deaths were completely preventable,” Cal/OSHA chief Ellen Widess said in a statement. She noted that hydrogen sulfide is a common byproduct of composting, but that Community Recycling and Recovery, which is headquartered in the San Fernando Valley, failed to provide workers with proper training, failed to test for dangerous levels of gas and did not have effective rescue procedures.
Widess also said the Armando Ramirez, a 16-year-old employee, and Eladio Ramirez, a 22-year-old contractor, were not given adequate protection when they were asked to clean the underground storm drain system at the company’s facility in Kern County on Oct. 12.
Armando was standing on a ladder in a drainpipe trying to clear a blockage when he said he didn’t feel well and slipped down into the pipe. Eladio tried to rescue him, but was overcome. Armando was pronounced dead at the scene. His older brother was taken off life support two days later.
Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterozza said the division’s Bureau of Investigation, which examines serious workplace accidents and deaths for possible criminal negligence, is still looking into this matter and if warranted will turn over evidence to the Kern County district attorney for prosecution.
Because Armando was 16, but had papers saying that he was 30, Cal/OSHA also made a referral to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for possible child labor law violations. That investigation is ongoing.
In a written statement Wednesday, Community Recycling said it had not seen the citations and could not immediately comment on them.
The company added that the deaths were the first in the facility’s 17 years of operation and it had “aggressively investigated” the circumstances and reviewed its entire safety and training program to assure such accidents would not recur.