Family Files Lawsuit in Confined Space Death of Worker

March 19, 2003
The unexpected death of a loved one is a nightmare for any family. But it is particularly hard for the family of Miguel Paramo, who died saving his brother Fernando. A third brother, Antonio, nearly lost his own life trying to save Miguel.

The family of Miguel Paramo, who was killed March 29, 2002 when he was overcome by hazardous sewage fumes at a construction site for a sewer lift station in Venice, Fla., is suing his employer, E.T. MacKenzie Co. The family claims the company failed to provide proper safety equipment, and had no ventilation equipment and no retrieval system to pull workers out of a sewer shaft should trouble occur.

According to the family's attorney, John Guyton of Tampa, the three Paramo brothers were working above ground at the Mission Valley Master Lift Station when Fernando, who was 17 at the time, was told to go down into a 25-foot-deep shaft to fix a leaking pipe. He was overcome by hazardous fumes when the pipe, which was carrying sewage, burst, and Miguel entered the confined space to save him. Miguel was able to pass his younger brother up to Antonio, saving Fernando's life. Miguel, however, was then overcome by gas and was unable to climb out.

Risking his own life, Antonio went into the hole and brought Miguel back up, but paramedics were unable to revive him and Miguel was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims the only piece of equipment Paramo had when he descended into the shaft was an aluminum ladder that was damaged.

Following an inspection, OSHA fined the company, which was the subcontractor for two sewer projects, $49,000 for one willful violation of confined space standards for knowingly allowing workers to enter a confined space without proper training to recognize hazards and properly protect themselves. The company also was fined $19,700 for violations related to confined space safety and a lack of a fall protection system and defective ladders.

"This tragic series of events could have been avoided if all work had stopped as soon the high-pressure feed broke off the grinder pump," said Les Groves, OSHA's Tampa area office director. "If the employees had been properly trained, they would not have reentered the hazardous confined space."

That fine is being contested by the Michigan-based construction company.

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