A fatal accumulation of vapors from pools of spilled coating chemicals has led to 12 federal safety citations and $64,600 in fines against a Wisconsin manufacturer.
Ramon Torres, 55, of Horicon, WI, died quickly Nov. 29 from a toxic buildup of vapors from toluene and other chemicals in a closed room at Vivid Image Inc., in Theresa, WI. Thomas Persha, 65, also of Horicon, was found unconscious with Torres but recovered later at an area hospital.
|OSHA said the workers were working in high exposures of toluene in an unventilated room without respiratory protection.|
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued 12 citations in the case, including two for violations considered “willful”—the highest level of infraction.
Vivid Image said in an automated phone message Thursday (May 17) that it had “discontinued operations” on Nov. 28—one day before the accident. If the company does not address the violations within 15 business days of receipt, OSHA considers the violations accepted.
Persha’s wife had gone to the facility to check on her husband when she had been unable to reach him. When she arrived, she saw both men, through a window, face down in the chemicals and called 911, authorities said.
A hazmat team found three five-gallon containers of paint and coating chemicals tipped over and empty.
The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office later identified the chemicals as toluene, screen coating paint, and a resin used in coatings for metal. Vivid specializes in coatings for projection systems.
Persha was lucky to survive, authorities said.
“With great degree of certainty, this happened very immediately, very quick,” Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls told the Fond du Lac Reporter.
According to OSHA, willful violations are those “committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.”
In this case, the willful violations were for allowing workers to work with toluene in an unventilated area without wearing respiratory protection and for exposing the workers to toluene beyond the peak level of 500 parts per million.
Toluene is a clear, colorless solvent commonly used in paints, thinners and glues. OSHA guidelines limit peak toluene exposure to 10 minutes per single time period for any eight-hour shift, with a time weighted average exposure of 200 parts per million.
The company also was cited for 10 serious safety and health violations, including failure to:
• Evaluate toluene air concentrations;
• Shut off the ventilation system and block the exhaust duct while applying screen coating material containing toluene;
• Ban ignition sources from the coating room where flammable material was mixed and applied;
• Develop and implement a written hazard communication program;
• Train workers on the hazards of coating material;
• Properly store flammable liquids;
• Provide guarding on a table saw;
• Prevent exposed electrical wires, by using extension cords instead of permanent wiring; and
• Provide fork truck training.
A serious violation reflects “substantial probability” or death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
The willful violations put Vivid in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections of “recalcitrant employers” to ensure compliance with the law.
“Vivid Image has a responsibility to monitor workers’ exposure to known chemicals in its facility, ensure usage of protective equipment and train workers in workplace hazards,” said Kim Stille, OSHA's area director in Madison, WI.
Dodge County Emergency Management Director Joe Meagher told the Fond du Lac newspaper that rescue workers had been called to Vivid before, under similar circumstances.
“They were called out there a couple of years ago when a UPS driver found workers unresponsive,” Meagher said.
No investigation was ordered, and the fate of those workers could not be determined Thursday, but they apparently survived. Only businesses with 10 or more employees are required to document work-related injuries and illnesses. Vivid Image has only three employees.