An employee of a chemical cleaning company that has been repeatedly cited elsewhere for workplace hazards died after suffering oxygen deprivation while trapped inside a tank car at the Port of New Orleans rail yard in New Orleans East on Thursday morning. Two other people were injured.
The New Orleans Fire Department said it received a report about several people trapped inside a tanker in the rail yard about 9:45 a.m. and dispatched its hazardous materials team.
Firefighters, along with the Port of New Orleans Harbor Police and EMS, found one man who had been able to escape from the tank car and call 911 despite suffering from oxygen deprivation. Two more men trapped inside the car, which was being cleaned by a company called Dedicated Trailer Cleaning Services, were removed by first responders.
One of those men was semi-conscious and responded to oxygen, according to Fire Department spokesman Capt. Edwin Holmes. The other was unresponsive and was taken to a hospital without a pulse. Dedicated TCS President Jon Ruiter confirmed Thursday evening that the man died at the hospital.
“Lack of ventilation, oxygen deprivation, is pretty much what caused these guys to pass out,” Holmes said.
He said he believed there will be an investigation of the incident but did not know which agency would lead it.
“Dedicated TCS sends out its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of its colleague,” Ruiter wrote in an email.
“Dedicated is currently investigating the accident and fully cooperating with the authorities to determine the cause,” he said. “It would be inappropriate at this time to comment during the ongoing investigation and further out of respect for the privacy of the family.”
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has repeatedly cited the Lansing, Illinois, company for exposing workers there and in Channahon, Illinois, to serious workplace hazards. None of the complaints involved the company’s New Orleans location.
Three separate inspections over two years found extensive problems, OSHA said in a January news release. The agency said Dedicated TCS exposed its workers to hazardous materials, failed to provide them with safety and rescue gear, and failed to properly train them.
“The company’s failure to safeguard its employees is a consistent and unacceptable habit. It must stop now,” Kathy Webb, OSHA’s area director in Calumet City, Illinois, said at the time.
OSHA spokeswoman Rhonda Burke said the company entered into a formal settlement after losing an appeal of those citations in May. The company agreed to pay a $55,625 fine.