State OSHA Agencies Issues $1.75M Fine After Asphyxiation Death
Three California companies have been issued a $1.75 million fine after a worker’s death in an oil refinery. In most states, OSHA violations are handled by the federal government. Federal law requires that all U.S. employers abide by safety recommendations to prevent workplace injuries and deaths. The individual states have the option of simply adopting the federal standards or creating equivalent legislation of their own. Most of the conservative states simply adopted the federal standards while more liberal states expanded on those standards and created their own bureaus for managing violations. California’s Cal/OSHA set forth the fines in this case. The federal government has never issued a fine this large in its history.
The worker died after a broken welding torch leaked fluid into an enclosed space. The result was that the worker lost consciousness and suffocated to death. The companies were cited for failing to ensure that the welding torch was in working order, failing to monitor the enclosed space for air purity, and then failing to issue protective equipment to the workers who went into the enclosed space to retrieve their coworker.
In this case, the biggest violation was not that the welding torch was leaking, but rather that the enclosed oxygen-deprived space was not monitored for air purity. In this case, it created a perfect storm that led to the worker’s death. Any workplace would be required to monitor these enclosed areas for breathability. In this case, had the area been monitored as required by both federal and state law, the busted blowtorch would not have resulted in the death of a worker.
When companies violate these basic safety protocols, families lose loved ones and a source of financial stability. Since employees or their families cannot sue employers to recover lost wages, they are only entitled to death benefits through workers’ compensation which represents a fraction of what they earned. In other words, the family is in financial turmoil, the death was preventable, and the employer should have known better.
In most cases, the fines are so small that the companies don’t end up taking a financial hit because of the infraction. Only the family of the deceased worker does. In California, at least, the government can levy higher fines against non-compliant employers than the federal government can.
In this case, giving the worker access to breathing equipment, monitoring the enclosed space for breathability issues, and ensuring that extra caution was taken with a blowtorch in an enclosed space could have all prevented the worker’s death.
Talk to a Decatur, GA Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Workers’ compensation is a “no-fault” system but that doesn’t mean that an employer won’t attempt to deny a claim if they can find any basis. Call the Decatur workers’ compensation lawyers at the O’Connell Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help.