Even vinegar can be hazardous.

An employee at the Rob Salamida Co. food manufacturing plant in Johnson City, NY, had to enter and clean the insides of a 3,000-gallon tank containing vinegar on Sept. 28. Once inside, he ended up rescued after being overcome by acetic acid vapors created by the vinegar in the tank. He remained hospitalized for five days.

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Investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) discovered the plant lacked numerous safeguards required to protect employees whose work require them to enter confined spaces, such as the vinegar tank.

OSHA cited Rob Salamida Co for one willful violation and 11 serious violations of workplace safety standards and proposed fines totaling $79,600.

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“This incident, and the resulting severe injuries to this worker, should never have happened,” said Christopher Adams, OSHA’s Syracuse area director. “Workers who enter confined spaces risk being overcome, sometimes fatally, by toxic and oxygen-deficient atmospheres. OSHA standards require that employers identify confined spaces in their workplaces and maintain a comprehensive and effective confined space program so that no worker is sickened or injured. That was not the case at the Salamida plant.”

Specific confined space hazards included the company’s failure to:
• Evaluate the workplace to identify confined spaces, including three, 3,000-gallon vinegar tanks.
• Identify confined space hazards inside the tank such as oxygen deficiency and acetic acid vapors.
• Develop and implement procedures and practices to verify and maintain safe entry conditions.
• Provide air monitoring, ventilation and rescue equipment for employees entering confined spaces.
• Ensure that trained employees conducted monitoring was conducted by trained employees.
• Train employees on confined space hazards.
• Develop and maintain confined space rescue procedures.
• Post warning signs for confined spaces.

Other hazards found during OSHA’s inspection included:
• No procedures, training or devices to lock out machines’ power sources to protect against their unintended startup.
• Inadequate respiratory protection.
• Not properly training employees to operate forklifts.
• Lack of emergency eyewashes and splash goggles for employees working with caustic chemicals.
• No chemical hazard communication program and training for employees.
• Unguarded fan blades; unlabeled electric circuit breakers.

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