Industrial and environmental services company Alpha Technical Services (ATS) was hit with nearly a half million dollars in penalties by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for exposing employees to confined space hazards after two employees died on the job at a worksite in Pasadena, Texas, after becoming overcome by fumes while cleaning a tank trailer.

benzene toxic fume warning sign shutterstock 432752080 366x210 Texas company fined after two workers die from exposure to toxic fumesAccording to investigators, on Dec. 28, one employee became unresponsive after entering the trailer’s confined space. After a non-entry retrieval system was used to rescue the worker failed, several employees entered the tank in an attempt to rescue the worker when a second employee became unresponsive. Shawn Jarmail Brown, 44, and Sidarieub Loranzo, 29, died and several other employees were injured in the incident. According to some reports, emergency calls were not made until four hours after the bodies were found.

Tank washings are generally required after every trip to ensure no cross contamination between hauls. These washings can be completed without humans actually setting foot in the tanks, however washing companies often send employees into the tanks to clean them to save time. In some cases, companies skip hazardous material checks or neglect to perform other safety procedures.

The ATS plant was bought by Quala Rail and Specialty in 2017, and since then the Pasadena site has been riddled with safety issues, including four OSHA violations in 2019 alone. And while those violations included issues that could lead to significant injury or loss of life, the company was only fined a total of $26,850.

This time, however, OSHA wasn’t as lenient on ATS. OSHA cited the company with $497,920 in penalties following an investigation into the incident that killed Brown and Loranzo. The citation includes one “willful” and two “repeat” violations for confined space hazards, including failing to conduct appropriate tests to ensure atmospheric conditions were safe for entry.

“Employers must recognize the dangers of assigning work in confined spaces, and properly identify, test, control, and ventilate the atmosphere to ensure the safety of workers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt.

Beasley Allen handles a variety of cases related to workplace safety. While all workers should be guaranteed a safe working environment, all too often we handle cases of serious injuries and deaths resulting from a hazardous work environment. Many times our investigation reveals defective or dangerous machinery was involved, or employers failed to provide adequate protections or ignored safety regulations. If you need more information, contact Kendall Dunson or Evan Allen, lawyers in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section who handle workplace litigation for our firm.

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