(This article was updated at 2:30 p.m. April 7, 2016, with additional, confirmed details and comments from the farm owner.)
CLYDE, Ohio — A 31-year-old worker died last fall on a Sandusky County farm after being overcome by exposure to gasses in pig manure, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which just released its investigation findings.
The deceased worker, who Farm and Dairy confirmed as Humberto “Antonio” Hernandez, was loading swine manure into tanker trucks for use as fertilizer on Oct. 31, 2015, when he died.
He worked for W.E. Soil Enhancement, a manure-handling business owned in part by Sandusky County farmer Rich Eshleman, who also owns Eshleman Fruit Farm. The other owner was Kyle Wagner, according to Ohio Secretary of State records.
Federal investigators determined Hernandez’ death was caused by inhalation of hydrogen sulfide, which is rapidly absorbed by the lungs. OSHA cited the company March 18 for three safety violations totaling $16,800, after completing its investigation into Hernandez’ death.
Eshleman described it as “a freak accident,” and doesn’t feel the company did anything wrong. He said he’s been in the manure pumping business for five to seven years, and has done the same job as Hernandez without issue. Eshleman said the worker died while on top of the manure tanker — outside and in open air.
“I’ve been in the exact same position,” Eshleman said. “I can’t figure it out.”
Eshleman said the company was well aware of the dangers of working around manure, and entering enclosed manure holding structures. He said the gas in question — hydrogen sulfide — is one of the most deadly gasses on a farm.
In its investigation, OSHA determined W. E. Soil Enhancement should have provided engineering controls and respiratory protection to protect workers from exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas; developed and trained workers on a hazard communication program; and identified and evaluated respiratory hazards.
“Symptoms from overexposure to hydrogen sulfide gas can come on rapidly and quickly overcome a worker,” said Kim Nelson, OSHA’s area director in Toledo. “The agriculture industry needs to educate its employees that the foul odors that come with manure spreading are not just unpleasant, they are unsafe and can be deadly.”
Plans to appeal
Eshleman said the company plans to appeal the fines.
“This is the first time that anything like this has happened to me, personally,” he said.
According to OSHA, the company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director in Toledo, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Hernandez had worked for the farm about six years. He was born in Mexico, according to his obituary, and was survived by his parents; a son, Humberto Padua Hernandez Jr.; four brothers and one sister.
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