FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
IR #2011-21
October 28, 2011

CONTACT:
Dean Fryer
Erika Monterroza
(510) 286-1161

Internet: www.dir.ca.gov


Cal/OSHA Investigates Recycling Firm Following Two Worker’s Deaths

Lamont CA– Cal/OSHA continues to take action to protect employees of Community Recycling and Resource Recovery, Inc. in Lamont, following the tragic deaths of two young workers aged 16 and 22. A second employer, A & B Harvesting, is also under investigation. Cal/OSHA has issued an order prohibiting entry to the drainage system tunnels at the facility and is working closely with other agencies in this multi-employer investigation.

The Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (Labor Commissioner) both opened investigations following the deaths of Armando and Eladio Ramirez. The brothers, who lived in Arvin, were overcome by highly toxic hydrogen sulfide fumes while cleaning the drainage system tunnel at the facility.

“Employers have a responsibility to ensure that they protect their workers and prevent this type of tragedy,” said DIR Acting Director Christine Baker. “California laws require employers to follow specific precautions; with proper employee training and protective equipment these deaths may have been prevented.”

Kern County firefighters were the first to respond to the late morning incident, and contacted the Fresno Cal/OSHA district office. Cal/OSHA immediately opened its investigation and visited the site. An Order to Prohibit Use (OPU) was promptly issued to shut down the storm drain system to prevent other workers from entering.

“Early indications are that these workers died while cleaning an on-site storm drain system,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “Cal/OSHA’s investigation will search for all potential safety and health hazards and violations that may exist at Community Recycling. If we find other hazards, we will use our full power to protect workers at the facility.”

Cal/OSHA is working closely with other federal, state and local agencies including the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Kern County’s Department of Public and Environmental Health, the Planning and Economic Development Department, the County Fire Department and Coroner, and other agencies with knowledge of Community Recycling’s operations and permits that may help to identify other potential hazardous activities and exposures to workers.

California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su has opened an investigation into possible child law labor violations after Armando Ramirez was revealed to have been 16 years old.

Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess, accompanied by members of her investigation team, provided information to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on October 25. Widess assured the Board of Supervisors and the public that the imminent hazards which led to the death of the two young workers have been addressed and that the ongoing investigation will identify any other hazards to workers that may exist at the facility. While Widess stressed that Cal/OSHA’s authority is limited to occupational protection and not community health, she pledged to share her division’s findings with all appropriate agencies so they can use their authority to protect public health.

Cal/OSHA is interested in hearing from current and former workers or anyone with information or concerns about Community Recycling’s practices.  The public can contact our Fresno District Office at (559) 445-5302 if they have information that may be helpful in this investigation.

Employers who want to learn more about Cal/OSHA and how to prevent serious workplace injuries and deaths, such as this case, can get information at the DIR Web site at www.dir.ca.gov/dosh. Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Program provides free and voluntary consultation to employers to improve their health and safety programs. For assistance from the Cal/OSHA Consultation Program, employers can call (800) 963-9424.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints can call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at (866) 924-9757. Complaints can also be filed anonymously with Cal/OSHA.

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