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Article updated: 5/13/2013 8:03 PM

OSHA cites contractor in Wheeling tank death

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An industrial cleaning company could pay up to $77,200 in fines over safety violations that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration says contributed to the death of an employee last fall in Wheeling.

On Monday, OSHA issued citations for 28 safety violations it called serious against Phoenix Industrial Cleaning of South suburban Berkeley.

On Nov. 29, 2012, 37-year-old Bernardo Martinez of Cicero was cleaning a tank at Sunnyside Corp. at 225 Carpenter Road in Wheeling. He was inside the tank up high on a ladder when he was apparently overcome by methylene chloride vapors and fell to his death, according to an OSHA news release.

Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac said the tank was 40 to 50 feet tall with one opening at the top that was about 28 inches wide.

When emergency crews arrived, Martinez was at the bottom of the tank, lying face down in "chemical sludge," and fire officials were sure he was already dead.

According to an online obituary he left a wife and children.

Martinez was wearing respiratory equipment, but it was the wrong type for this hazardous material, according to OSHA.

"No job should cost a person's life because of an employer's failure to properly protect and train workers," said Diane Turek, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's area director in Des Plaines.

"Phoenix Industrial Cleaning failed in its responsibility to evaluate working conditions and provide proper respiratory and personal protective equipment to workers cleaning storage tanks containing hazardous chemicals."

Spokesmen for either company could not be reached for comment Monday. OSHA did not cite Sunnyside, a manufacturer of paint thinner, cleaners and wood care products, according to its website.

Five of the violations deal with protecting workers from breathing hazards, including a failure to evaluate the hazards and select appropriate respiratory protection, to make sure the protection fit the worker and to train workers in how to protect themselves.

Eighteen of the violations deal with rules for working in confined spaces. The company failed to have a rescue plan or equipment ready for a worker caught in a crisis, OSHA officials said. It also should use testing and monitoring equipment for air hazards and provide a way for the person inside to communicate with an attendant, OSHA said.

In addition, Martinez should have worn a harness to protect against falling, said Burke.

OSHA said the company also failed to provide workers with information and training on the hazards of methylene chloride and to provide effective protective garments. Methylene chloride is used in consumer products like paint thinners.

OSHA defines a serious violation as one that occurs when there is a substantial probability that death or serious injury could result. A confined space has limited means for exit and is not designed for people to regularly occupy it.

Phoenix Industrial Cleaning has 15 days to contest the citations or request a conference with OSHA.

OSHA said Phoenix performs industrial cleaning of cooking ventilation, tanks and silos. OSHA conducted four previous inspections, two of which resulted in citations for violating standards on confined spaces. The last OSHA inspection was in 2001.

Daily Herald staff writer Deborah Donovan contributed to this report.

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