Waist-deep and sinking in 25,000 pounds of sand, the worker was eventually rescued. But the ending is not so happy for his employer.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has imposed heavy fines on an Illinois concrete company for waiting more than an hour Feb. 6 before summoning emergency help for William Ortiz, 37, a supervisor who was nearly buried alive in a silo full of sand.
|Dukane Precast, in Naperville, IL, was fined $70,000 for willful and serious violations.|
OSHA cited Dukane Precast Inc., of Naperville, IL, for one willful and three serious violations related to the accident and fined the company a total of $70,000. The 33-year-old company is the Chicago area’s largest pre-stressed, precast concrete producer, with plants in Aurora, Naperville and Plainfield.
Dukane Precast said in a statement that it had voluntarily called OSHA during Ortiz’s rescue.
“Dukane Precast is committed to the safety and well-being of its employees,” said the statement by company president Grant Ripper. “We look forward to meeting with OSHA’s area director on Aug. 7 to discuss their findings and share ours.”
The statement added, “Our Naperville plant has been open 12 years and has an exemplary safety record with no prior OSHA citations. We continue to train and actively practice a safety culture. Policy, training and tools were in place to prevent this accident from occurring. ”
Ortiz became engulfed in the sand shortly after 11 a.m., authorities said. He had been on a catwalk inside the 25-foot silo and “had walked into the bin and onto the sand to level it,” according to OSHA.
At the time of the accident, a Dukane spokeswoman said she did not how Ortiz had managed to call for help or how long he had been trapped before reaching someone.
At any rate, according to OSHA, plant employees tried for more than an hour to rescue Ortiz before they called 911. The ensuing rescue operation took several hours and involved highly specialized teams from 22 surrounding fire agencies.
Ortiz was then taken by ambulance to a local hospital. The company spokeswoman said Ortiz had been released from the hospital shortly after the incident. OSHA, however, described Ortiz’s injuries as serious.
Whatever his injuries, however, OSHA classified the delayed response itself as a willful violation—its highest level of infraction, reserved for violations “committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.”
The prolonged rescue efforts by fellow employees endangered not only Ortiz’s life, but theirs, OSHA noted.
“Dukane Precast failed to enforce rules in place to protect workers,” said Kathy Webb, area director for OSHA in North Aurora, IL. “Employers have a responsibility to immediately seek emergency assistance when a worker is injured on the job and to prevent others from putting themselves at risk in a rescue operation.”
OSHA also cited the company for three serious safety violations—those that carry a “substantial probability” of causing death or serious injury.
Those citations allege failure to:
• Maintain a railing to protect workers from dangerous equipment;
• Prevent unauthorized workers from entering a permit-required confined space; and
• Prepare entry permits before entering a confined space.
Dukane Precast is a concrete manufacturer that employs 90 workers. The company has been inspected by OSHA 14 times since 1981, and has been issued a total of 25 violations.
Before the February incident, Dukane had a clean record with OSHA dating back to 2005, but the company was cited on three separate occasions in 2004.