The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division is investigating the circumstances of a fatal Oregon workplace industrial accident late last month involving a man who fell into a chemical holding tank aboard a barge on the Willamette River, according to local TV station KOIN.
According to The Oregonian, the Portland Fire Department’s hazmat rescue team was called to the barge near Swan Island after workers realized one of their colleagues was missing and that he had last been seen standing near an open hatch aboard what the newspaper describes as “a 40-feet-by-50-feet barge filled with a toxic and corrosive chemical liquid called lignin amine…. (which) is often used to spray fruit trees.”
When rescue crews arrived they found the hatch leading to one of the barge’s tanks open and the man’s body at the bottom, the newspaper reports. The Oregonian quotes a member of the Portland Fire & Rescue team describing the tank as a “double hazard,” noting both the extremely confined space inside the tank and the hazardous materials it contained. According to the paper, the atmosphere at the bottom of the tank contained only 1% oxygen, guaranteeing that the victim would have perished within minutes of falling in. While standard safety procedures would have required wearing a life vest, the paper says it is unclear whether the victim was doing so – though granted the lack of air inside the tank it is not likely that a vest would have saved him.
This Portland industrial accident is a textbook example of the importance of workplace safety and illustrates in the most serious way possible why it is critical for companies to take every possible step to ensure their workers’ safety. Issues of life and death must go beyond the narrow scope of legal regulation. Simply put: employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment. Under the laws defining Oregon industrial accidents, this extends to ensuring that the equipment and services provided to employees is both appropriate to the job and is properly maintained and that the overall working environment itself does not pose unreasonable dangers.
Any Oregon workplace death raises serious legal questions concerning industrial accidents, whether the fatality itself meets the definition of an Oregon wrongful death and, perhaps most importantly, whether the tragedy can be prevented from occurring again. An Oregon industrial accident and workplace safety attorney can help victims and their families sort through all these questions with an eye toward both justice in the present and improved safety for all in the future.