One of the most hazardous conditions workers across the country, including here in California, can be exposed to is confined spaces. For this reason, the California Division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has strict safety regulations to protect workers against exposure to toxic fumes or gases that may be present in confined areas. Strict compliance with these regulations is vital for all confined spaces, and decisions as to the potential danger of possible workplace injuries must not be left up to employees.
An employee of a food manufacturing plant in another state was sent into a 3,000-gallon vinegar tank last September to clean the inside. Even a seemingly harmless liquid such as vinegar can cause toxic fumes when contained in limited areas. The residue of the vinegar released acetic acid vapors that caused the worker to collapse inside the tank. Fortunately, he was discovered and rescued in time.
The worker spent five days in a hospital before he was released. OSHA investigators reportedly recognized multiple safety violations at the facility. Several of these were related to the dangers of confined spaces and the company's noncompliance with safety regulations. Violations included the failure to evaluate and identify confined spaces, and failure to then develop safety protocols, air monitoring and controlled access related to the identified areas. Workers must also receive appropriate safety training to prepare them for potential emergency situations.
This worker who was overcome by the acetic acid fumes will have to cope with high medical expenses along with the costs of hospitalization. Furthermore, the time spent in the hospital and possible additional days for recuperation can wreak havoc to the financial stability of any worker. The California workers' compensation insurance program covers all workers and will consider all benefits claims filed by injured workers. Medical expenses and lost income typically form part of the program's benefits payments to victims of workplace injuries.
Source: workerscompensation.com, "Employee's Serious Injuries Due to Fumes in 3,000-Gallon Vinegar Tank 'Should Never Have Happened'", March 30, 2016