Contractor Fined in Tank Worker’s Death


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.

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 & Safety; Health and safety; Maintenance programs; Methylene chloride; OSHA; Paint Removal; Painting Contractors; Respiratory Protection Standard

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.