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Co-Workers Rescue Man from Acid Tank

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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A New Jersey man is in critical condition—but lucky to be alive—after falling 20 feet through a collapsed pipe factory roof into a tank of diluted acid.

Five co-workers rushed to pull Martin Davis, 44, an ironworker and father of three, out of the nitric acid solution Monday morning (May 7) at Swepco Tube LLC in Clifton, NJ.

All of the men worked for Gar Con Enterprises, of Flemington, NJ, which was replacing a metal corrugated roof at Swepco. Swepco makes high-alloy, corrosion-resistant pipes and tubing for process industries.

 Swepco has six tanks, like that at left, that contain nitric/hydrofluoric acid for pickling and passivating.

 Swepco Tube

Swepco Tube produces stainless-steel, high-alloy and corrosion resistant pipe and tubing. Six tanks, like that at left, contain nitric/hydrofluoric acid for pickling and passivating.

Davis, who had been working on the roof when it caved in, suffered a broken rib, punctured lung and burns on his legs and side.

Both Swepco Tube and Gar Con declined Wednesday to comment on the accident.

‘A Lot of Courage’

Clifton Fire Chief Vincent Colavitti Jr. said it took “a lot of courage” for the co-workers to reach into the acid and pull Davis out.

When rescue crews arrived, they cut off Davis’s clothing and hosed him down to minimize burns. The co-workers were treated at an area hospital and released.

Initial reports said that one of the co-workers, Rob Nuckols, had jumped into the 30-foot-long, four-foot-deep tank to rescue Davis. But the account proved false, and Nuckols downplayed his efforts when talking to reporters later.

“I’m one of five guys who came to his aid,” he told The Record of Woodland Park. “We were just helping a co-worker.”

The tanks are used to pickle and passivate the pipes in one step; each contains between 3,000 and 4,000 gallons of solution, according to Swepco’s web site.

Nuckols said the tank solution was somewhat diluted, not “the kind of acid that would rip your skin off.”

OSHA Investigation and Records

Colavitti told reporters that Gar Con did not have a building permit, which would have triggered a safety inspection before or during the roofing work. The chief said the roof was being replaced after being eaten away over the years by rising acid vapors and mist.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.

According to OSHA records, Gar Con was cited in 2003 for other-than-serious and three serious violations mainly related to fall protection and aerial lift safety. An initial fine of $4,500 was reduced to $1,500.

Swepco was cited by OSHA in 2009 for 14 serious and four other-than-serious violations. That initial fine of $15,825 was later settled at $7,350. In 2007, the company was issued one serious violation related to crane use and fined $2,500, later reduced to $1,750.

‘We Stick Together’

John Davis, the victim’s brother, who also works in construction, told that he understood why his brother’s co-workers had rushed to help.

“In our trade, we stick together,” he told the site. “It’s a serious business. You'll die out there. You’ve got your family to feed, and you have got to protect each other.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Corrosion; Health and safety; Steel; Tanks and vessels

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