The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has cited Meeder Equipment Company of Rancho Cucamonga and referred D&D Construction Specialties, Inc. of Sun Valley (D&D) for criminal prosecution in two separate cases of workers’ deaths related to confined spaces.
Meeder Equipment Company and its successors were cited a combined $272,250 for serious safety violations following a confined space death of a worker who suffocated in a 10,000-gallon propane gas tank. In a separate case, D&D faced criminal prosecution for the 2016 death of a worker who lost consciousness and fell 15 feet while cleaning a 50-foot-deep, 48-inch-wide drainage sump. Cal/OSHA’s Enforcement branch also issued citations to D&D, including a serious accident-related citation for failure to conduct a hazard inspection before this work was performed.
On August 18, 2022, a mechanic employed by Meeder Equipment Company entered the tank to spray a valve inside. He was later found unresponsive inside the permit-required confined space. Meeder employees attempted to rescue him without proper respiratory protection but were unsuccessful, as they were nearly overcome by the lack of oxygen inside the tank. The Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department rescued the employee and transported him to a nearby hospital where he died.
Meeder Equipment Company’s violations include one categorized as willful and serious after Cal/OSHA determined the employer failed to follow confined space requirements, did not provide employees with safety training or respiratory equipment, and did not have an emergency rescue plan. A willful violation is cited when evidence shows the employer either knowingly violated the law or took no reasonable steps to address a known hazard.
Among other violations cited were failure to:
– – Test or monitor the atmosphere inside the permit-required confined space during initial and subsequent rescue entries.
– – Provide at least one attendant outside of the permit-required confined space during the duration of all entry operations.
– – Prepare a proper entry permit.
– – Provide effective training to perform duties while working inside a permit-required confined space.
In a separate and unrelated investigation, Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigations (BOI) successfully referred to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office a worker’s 2016 confined-space death for criminal prosecution. BOI is responsible for investigating employee fatality and serious injury cases, and for preparing and referring cases to local and state prosecutors for criminal prosecution.
The victim in the D&D case was employed by a licensed general contractor as a laborer and was assigned to clean water, muck and other debris from the bottom of a 50-foot-deep, 48-inch-wide drainage sump. The victim stood on a metal bucket attached to a small crane that lowered him into the shaft opening. After 15 to 20 feet, he became unresponsive and fell head-first to the bottom of the shaft. The victim died as a result of drowning.
On September 27, 2019, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed a felony criminal complaint against D&D. Daniel T. Moore, the president of D&D, was charged with involuntary manslaughter under Penal Code section 192(b) and two counts of willful violation of an occupational safety or health standard under Labor Code section 6425(a). Marty K. Hamilton, the superintendent of D&D, who is now deceased, was charged with violating two counts of Labor Code section 6425(a).
In November 2022, Moore was convicted of a felony for violating Labor Code section 6425. He was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine, which included $22,000 to the victim’s family and $15,000 to BOI, one year of formal probation, and completion of OSHA training.
“Working in confined spaces is extremely dangerous, so the necessary emergency equipment must be available and employees trained in its use if rescue is needed,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Jeff Killip. “Identifying hazards and having a rescue plan before a worker enters a confined space can prevent tragedy.”
Confined space hazards exist in many workplaces. Employers must identify and label confined spaces, establish and maintain onsite emergency response plans, and provide training for workers and supervisors. Common types of confined spaces include tanks, silos, pipelines, sewers, storage bins, drain tunnels and vaults.
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