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Contractor Fined in Tank Worker’s Death

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

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An Illinois industrial cleaning and painting firm is being held responsible for the death of a worker, who was stricken while cleaning a methylene chloride tank inside a paint thinner plant.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed $77,200 in fines and issued 28 citations against Phoenix Industrial Cleaning, of Berkeley, IL, in the accident Nov. 29, 2012, at Sunnyside Corp., a manufacturer of paint removers, paint thinners and wood care products in Wheeling, IL.

Sunnyside Corp.
Sunnyside Corp.

The employee of Phoenix Industrial Cleaning perished while cleaning a tank last used to hold methylene chloride at Sunnyside Corp., in Wheeling, IL. Sunnyside, a manufacturer of paint thinner and other products, was not cited in the case.

The employee, whose name was not released, fell from a ladder when he was overcome by toxic vapors while working inside a 16-foot-tall storage tank at the plant. The 6,000-gallon tank had last been used to store methylene chloride, a colorless solvent that has been the focus of multiple health and safety alerts.

Another Phoenix Industrial Cleaning employee was asphyxiated, and one was injured, while working in a sugar silo in 2000. OSHA has cited the company twice for violating confined-space standards.

Phoenix Industrial Cleaning did not respond Tuesday (May 14) to a request for comment.

'Failed in its Responsibility'

"No job should cost a person's life because of an employer's failure to properly protect and train workers," said Diane Turek, OSHA's area director for the Chicago North Area Office in Des Plaines.

"Phoenix Industrial Cleaning failed in its responsibility to evaluate working conditions and provide proper respiratory and personal protective equipment to workers cleaning storage tanks containing hazardous chemicals."

Phoenix Industrial Cleaning
Phoenix Industrial Cleaning

Phoenix Industrial Cleaning provides cleaning services for confined spaces and performs industrial painting. One of its employees was killed in a sugar silo in 2000.

All of the citations are classified as serious, meaning that each carries a substantial probability of serious injury or death from a hazard that the employer knew, or should have known, about.

Confined Space, Respiratory Hazards

Eighteen violations involve confined-space entry requirements, including failure to:

  • Develop and implement a confined-space entry program for workers cleaning chemical storage tanks;
  • Train workers on acceptable entry conditions;
  • Provide testing and monitoring equipment for atmospheric hazards;
  • Provide a means of communication between workers entering a confined space and the attendant;
  • Provide rescue emergency equipment and a retrieval system to facilitate a no-entry rescue;
  • Have proper entry-control permits; and
  • Determine the proficiency of rescue service available to perform emergency rescue for exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Five violations involve OSHA's respiratory protection standards, including failure to:

  • Evaluate the respiratory hazards present and select appropriate respiratory protection based on such hazards;
  • Provide a written respiratory protection program and train workers on such a program; and
  • Conduct medical evaluations for workers required to use respiratory protection and proper fit-testing respiratory protection.

Additional serious violations involve OSHA's methylene chloride standard, such as failing to provide workers with information and training on the hazards associated with methylene chloride, assess exposure, and provide effective protective garments.

Methylene Chloride Dangers

Methylene chloride, commonly used in industrial processes, has been the subject of increasing regulatory scrutiny worldwide. Federal OSHA has linked methylene chloride to more than 50 worker deaths since the mid-1980s, primarily from its use in poorly ventilated spaces.

Methylene Chloride accident
California Department of Health

Several state and federal-level safety alerts about methylene chloride paint strippers were issued after a California painter died in this tank from chemical vapors. A coworker was also overcome, but survived, when he attempted a rescue.

Many U.S. regulatory agencies consider the chemical a carcinogen, and it is banned from many uses in Europe. The chemical tops a list now under review by the Environmental Protection Agency. Two federal agencies issued alerts regarding the chemical's dangers after a tank painter died from vapors.

The European Union announced last year that it would ban the use of methylene chloride paint strippers in most settings, while OSHA recently issued a hazard alert about the chemical in the wake of a series of deaths by workers using it to refinish bathtubs.

Previous Death

Phoenix Industrial performs industrial cleaning of cooking exhaust ventilation, tanks, silos and similar equipment at industrial and commercial work sites.

In 2000, one Phoenix Industrial employee perished and another was hospitalized when both became engulfed in sugar while cleaning a silo.

According to OSHA's account, the employees were cleaning and scraping a sugar silo. "They had entered the silo five times, but on the sixth entry they became engulfed in sugar," OSHA reported. "They were rescued, but were engulfed a second time as sugar continued to pour out of the silo. Employee #1 died of asphyxia; Employee #2 sustained [asphyxia] injuries that required hospitalization."

In that case, OSHA issued eight serious and one unclassified violation and proposed $15,200 in fines. The case was later settled as three serious and one unclassified violation and a $9,600 fine.

OSHA has inspected the company four times, the last time (prior to the November accident) in 2001. Two inspections resulted in citations for violating standards on confined spaces.

Phoenix Industrial Cleaning has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the case.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Chemical stripping; Confined space; Fatalities; Health and safety; Maintenance programs; Methylene chloride; OSHA; Painting Contractor; Respiratory Protection Standard

Comment from Janis Anderson, (5/15/2013, 8:12 AM)

What ever happened to "Sniffers"? When I worked in a papermill in the 1970's no one was ever allowed to enter a confined space until it had been tested for the presence of any hazardous gases and that the air quality was acceptable.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/15/2013, 8:41 AM)

They should be using sniffers (gas meters), but are failing to do so. It’s not a methylene chloride problem, it’s a problem with businesses failing to have and follow standard confined space guidelines. It's an important point that their last death was due to sugar. Again, a confined space failure.

Comment from John Mitchell, (5/15/2013, 10:04 AM)

We see this all too often with companies failing to follow the OSHA guidelines for confined space entry, air quality monitoring, respiratory equipment and training. In Maryland in the late 90's we too had a fatality with a coatings explosion in a tank. Because we had ALL the documented training, on-site safety equipment, proper supervision, hole watches, etc. my company was not cited. I have seen 2 other small companies put out of business for the exact same scenario as with Phoenix Industrial. They, and companies like Phoenix deserve more than a "slap on the wrist" fine. In many countries there would be criminal charges.

Comment from WAN MOHAMAD NOR WAN ABDUL RAHMAN, (5/15/2013, 11:10 AM)

Safety first is becoming a myth due to humans worldly greed.

Comment from Car F., (5/15/2013, 11:25 AM)

Jail, jail, jail, jail, jail

Comment from josh hutcheson, (5/15/2013, 3:14 PM)


Comment from Karl Judt, (5/20/2013, 2:37 PM)

So is OSHA waiting for the "3rd strike" for this company to be suspended/ lose their contractor's licence

Comment from Car F., (5/21/2013, 12:10 PM)

This is not ONLY OSHA's responsibility. This government agency has been decimated and reduced to practically nothing by successive administrations caving to pressure from irresponsable industrialists who have a complete disregard for live and public safety. We, as taxpayers, have demanded smaller, leaner and toothless government, which in reality means yielding to powerful and influencial special interest groups in detriment of the public health and safety...we are also part of the problem.

Comment from Donald L Crusan, (5/22/2013, 11:05 AM)

Right on Car F and we better soon quit worrying about multi national corporations friends helping destro regulation. A t least we are getting a bit of sanity in the workplace with the current administration. What is worse, over regulation or no regulation. The people are fed up with bothe extremes and haven trouble coming to grips with the moderate President Obama is. As a fool who was seduced by reagan, I never thought I would feel this way back in the 1980s/ Safety, Quality, and Integrity, BRING IT BACK HOME TO THE WORKPLACE!

Comment from M. Halliwell, (5/22/2013, 11:07 AM)

OSHA and the EPA get caught in the same trap: We want smaller government, government out of our lives so we can work and to stop interfering with business so the country can be strong, and so on... so we basically cut the legs off what they can do. Then, when something happens (a spill, an occupational death, etc., etc.) we all cry about the lack of enforcement and why didn't OSHA or the EPA do something about these folks or this situation before "this" happened. I've found that greed is a very stong far too many cases, if there is no oversight then whatever makes the most bucks wins and doing things "the right way" only counts if the fines will hurt the profit margin. When you add an intimidated or poorly educated workforce (esp. when illegal workers are involved because of how easy it is to intimidate them with threats of calling INS and how cheap they can be hired for labour), then the workers just accept the conditions or don't know that they are putting themselves in the dangers that they do. Makes for a very bad situation and a lot of unnecessary deaths in the workforce.

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