BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer email@example.com
Cal-OSHA issued 16 citations totaling $166,890 Wednesday against a Lamont composting company that it said neglected to set up safety procedures that could have saved two brothers' lives last fall.
"These young workers' deaths were completely preventable," agency Chief Ellen Widess said in a news release.
A Cal-OSHA spokeswoman noted that the agency continues to investigate the composter, Community Recycling & Resource Recovery Inc., and that it plans to turn over evidence against the company to the county district attorney's office for possible charges.
Community Recycling declined to address the citations, saying in a news release that it had not seen them.
Cal-OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said in an email that the company has indicated it intends to appeal the citations.
The accusations stem from an Oct. 12 accident in which the agency says Armando Ramirez, a 16-year-old employee of Community Recycling, died from inhaling the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide while cleaning out a drainage shaft at its the facility. His 22-year-old brother, Heladio, alternatively spelled as Eladio in some official documents, went down to rescue Armando but was overcome as well; he was rendered brain dead and removed from life support two days later.
Cal-OSHA said in a news release that hydrogen sulfide is a common byproduct of the composting process, implying that the company should have anticipated the threat and taken preventative measures.
"Yet Community Recycling and Recovery failed to have proper procedures in place -- identification and posting of all confined space hazards, training workers and supervisors, testing for dangerous levels of gas, and effective rescue procedures," Widess said in the release. "These could have saved both workers who were not trained or provided adequate protection."
Cal-OSHA said the 16 citations deal with the company's failure to establish a proper confined space safety program, including training, rescue procedures and testing for hazards. Four of the citations involve general workplace safety violations. The rest were for "serious" violations, five of them relating specifically to the accident.
Bakersfield's A&B Harvesting Inc., which employed Heladio Ramirez, was cited for failing to train employees in confined space hazards.
The two brothers' deaths sparked community outrage that culminated Nov. 15 with a unanimous vote by county supervisors to shut down the company and fine it $2.3 million over what county officials said was a pattern of land-use violations dating back several years.
Community Recycling continues to operate as it appeals the county's actions in court.
In January the brothers' mother, Faustina Ramirez, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. The suit relates only to the death of Heladio; families of people killed in industrial accidents generally are not able to recover damages from the deceased person's employer.
Community Recycling's Wednesday news release reiterates that the brothers' deaths were "truly tragic" and that they were the first fatalities in the facility's 17 years of operation.
"Since the incident, Community Recycling has aggressively investigated the circumstances and reviewed its entire safety and training program to assure that this type of event will not occur again," the release states. "Community Recycling continues its investigation into the incident and will evaluate the citations and findings made by Cal/OSHA once they are received."
"In the aftermath of the incident, Community Recycling has made and will continue to make every effort to assure that its facility is safe for workers and the public."