OSHA fines Portland company $118,800 for hazards that knocked 2 workers out

By: - February 9, 2024 5:30 am
River City Environmental sent four workers to a hazardous job without safety gear, Oregon safety officials say.

River City Environmental sent four workers to a hazardous job without safety gear, Oregon safety officials say. (Courtesy of Oregon OSHA)

Oregon OSHA has fined a Portland environmental services company a total of $118,800 for numerous safety violations that resulted in two workers passing out on the job.

The fine against River City Environmental Inc. is one of the largest levied by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division in recent years, division spokesman Aaron Corvin said. 

The citation lists 10 violations and notes that the problems date to last June, when River City assigned workers to clean filters inside a stormwater sewer at Widmer Brothers Brewing in north Portland. Widmer staff noticed the workers were not taking proper safety precautions and sent them away.

They went again in mid-July for the same job, the citation said, and River City again failed to equip and train the workers properly but they were allowed to enter a maintenance hole at the brewery anyway. Their job was to clean, retrofit and remove filters in a tight space used to sift stormwater runoff from a large loading dock, an operation that’s performed yearly, according to the citation. 

The space was confined and dangerous: The oxygen levels were 12.5% compared with the 20.9% that’s generally in the air.  Safety rules allow workers without ventilation or supplied air to enter a space as long as it has a minimum of 19.5% of oxygen.

The citation said River City did not ensure that the work was supervised, failed to equip the workers with air testing and monitoring equipment, did not provide ventilation equipment and did not give them rescue and emergency equipment.

It also didn’t inform the workers on the potential hazards of the job or of the potential symptoms and consequences they could face, the citation said, and the company had no procedures to rescue the workers in the event of an emergency. The workers weren’t even trained in basic first aid or CPR, the citation said.

“Confined space work does not allow for carelessness,” Renee Stapleton, Oregon OSHA’s administrator, said in a statement. “Employers must anticipate the risks, focus on thoroughness and ensure that they protect their employees who enter confined spaces.” 

Four workers entered the space and two passed out, according to the citation, prompting a call to Portland Fire and Rescue, which alerted Oregon OSHA to the safety problems. Corvin said none of the workers had to be hospitalized.

The company, which did not respond to a request for comment, has appealed, Corvin said.

Oregon OSHA also investigated River City Environmental within the last five years for another incident involving a lack of ear protection, Corvin said. The agency did not issue a citation in that case.

Oregon OSHA has only issued two other fines for more than $100,000 since 2021, Corvin said. In April that year, it fined a contractor $104,000 for various violations, including fall risks. And in March last year, it fined another contractor $105,800 for similar violations, he said.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle's editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.

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