Fatal South Carolina Work Accident Raises Questions About Adequate Training, Emergency Response

The widow and cousin of a man killed in a South Carolina work accident at a York County paper plant have alleged that the training new employees received was inadequate and the emergency response was lacking. oldpaperroll.jpg

Our Rock Hill workers’ compensation attorneys understand that this particular manufacturer has a history of serious and fatal work-related accidents over the last several years.

The 39-year-old North Carolina father’s family has yet to file a lawsuit, but it’s believed they intend to do so.

In this case, according to numerous news agencies, the worker, along with his cousin, were hired as contractors to do maintenance and cleaning on an aging, decommissioned, 40-foot fume tank that was located outside the primary production area. They were working third shift at the time of the incident. Investigators are still trying to piece together exactly how events unfolded, but preliminary evidence suggests that at some point, a chemical leaked into the tank while the men were inside, shortly after 1 a.m.

It’s unclear at this point what that chemical was or what may have malfunctioned, but the worker’s cousin and another man working inside scrambled to make an escape. The other employee was able to make it out, as was the cousin. However, the victim was dangling inside by a harness, and the other two were unable to pull him out. He was trapped.

The cousin later told reporters that when he rushed to the onsite safety supervisor to inform him of the situation, no one had a sense of real urgency in responding.

Perhaps even more troubling, the cousin called his wife to the scene. When she arrived, she said she could see her husband suspended inside the tank – yet emergency crews were parked outside, not in the factory trying to help him. County safety officials say protocol was properly followed, as workers could not get in to help the worker until the situation was safe for emergency personnel.

All three workers were reportedly wearing the proper protective equipment, but the cousin is also alleging that the contractors were not given proper training prior to being assigned to do the work. He said there was a perfunctory, 15-minute training video they were asked to watch, followed by a short quiz – to which the instructors provided the answers. The workers were on the job less than 12 hours later. He is likely right in his assertion that this was not enough to prepare them for what unfolded.

The company has called the situation an “unfortunate accident.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched an investigation, and toxicology reports are pending from the autopsy.

Last spring at this same site, one man was critically burned and three others seriously hurt when a chemical leak erupted in pulping area of the factory. And in 2000, another two workers died during an explosion at the plant.

While one safety shortfall doesn’t necessarily prove another, it does often seem to highlight a trend. Companies or supervisors that have proven lax in some areas may well be seen not applying proper procedure in others. This is ultimately the company’s job to correct, but it’s also important for workers who see potential hazards to speak up as well.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Widow: Response to York Co. plant death was inadequate, Jan. 29, 2013, By Don Worthington, Charlotte Observer
Widow makes serious allegations against paper plant after contractor’s death, Jan. 29, 2013, By Kristy Etheridge, WBTV

More Blog Entries:
Railway Company Signs OSHA Agreement to Improve Worker Protections, Jan. 25, 2013, Rock Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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