Employee's Serious Injuries Due to Fumes in 3,000-Gallon Vinegar Tank ‘Should Never Have Happened’


Syracuse, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) - Even vinegar can be hazardous under certain circumstances.

An employee at the Rob Salamida Co. food manufacturing plant in Johnson City was instructed to enter and clean the insides of a 3,000-gallon tank containing vinegar on Sept. 28, 2015. Once inside, he was overcome by acetic acid vapors created by the vinegar in the tank. He was rescued but was hospitalized for five days.

A U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection found that the plant lacked numerous safeguards required to protect employees whose work require them to enter confined spaces, such as the vinegar tank.

“This incident, and the resulting severe injuries to this worker, should never have happened,” said Christopher Adams, OSHA's Syracuse area director. “Workers who enter confined spaces risk being overcome, sometimes fatally, by toxic and oxygen-deficient atmospheres. OSHA standards require that employers identify confined spaces in their workplaces and maintain a comprehensive and effective confined space program so that no worker is sickened or injured. That was not the case at the Salamida plant.”

Specific confined space hazards included the company's failure to:

  • Evaluate the workplace to identify confined spaces, including three, 3,000-gallon vinegar tanks.
  • Identify confined space hazards inside the tank such as oxygen deficiency and acetic acid vapors.
  • Develop and implement procedures and practices to verify and maintain safe entry conditions.
  • Provide air monitoring, ventilation and rescue equipment for employees entering confined spaces.
  • Ensure that monitoring was conducted by trained employees.
  • Train employees on confined space hazards.
  • Develop and maintain confined space rescue procedures.
  • Post warning signs for confined spaces.

Other hazards found during OSHA's inspection included:

  • No procedures, training or devices to lock out machines' power sources to protect against their unintended startup.
  • Inadequate respiratory protection.
  • Not properly training employees to operate forklifts.
  • Lack of emergency eyewashes and splash goggles for employees working with caustic chemicals.
  • No chemical hazard communication program and training for employees.
  • Unguarded fan blades; unlabeled electric circuit breakers.

As a result of these conditions, cited Rob Salamida Co for one willful violation and 11 serious violations of workplace safety standards and proposed fines totaling $79,600. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The citations can be viewed here

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