OSHA Issues Fines for Two Worker Deaths in Florida

Oct. 10, 2002 started out as a normal day for Osvaldo Martinez and Orlando Mendoza. They were in a 12-foot-deep underground utility access hole in a Miami Beach sewer, installing PVC pipes to carry electrical cables, when Mendoza was overcome by sewer gases. When Martinez tried to save him, both lost their lives.

OSHA has proposed $62,000 in fines against Electrical Technologies Corp., of Medley, Fla., for failing to provide Martinez and Mendoza with air monitors and respirators, standard equipment when working in confined spaces.

"The kind of equipment that should be used to protect their workers was not available," said Luis Santiago, area director of OSHA's Fort Lauderdale office. "Hopefully this employer has made changes in the way they operate their business."

According to investigators, Mendoza was trying to fix a clogged pump inside the manhole that was placed there to remove water that was seeping through the walls. When he collapsed, Martinez entered the hole in a rescue attempt but was also overcome by the fumes.

In addition to their failure to monitor the air inside the space and lack of respiratory protection, OSHA investigators found the access ladder placed in the manhole was not long enough to quickly get outside the confined space, making it more difficult for the men to escape.

The company has 15 working days to pay the fine, ask for an informal meeting with the area OSHA director or request a hearing with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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