LINDEN, N.J. — The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating how two workers died here Saturday while cleaning an industrial-sized tank at a commercial drycleaner.
The victims — Victor M. Diaz Jr., 42, of Hillside, N.J., and Carlos Diaz, 41, of Paterson, N.J. — were found in the empty 20,000-gallon steel tank at North East Linen Co., formerly known as Morey La Rue Laundry & Dry Cleaning. Autopsies determined that toxic fumes had asphyxiated them.
A supervisor checking on the workers around 2 p.m. Saturday found them unconscious. Fumes delayed rescue efforts, and paramedics pronounced the men dead three hours later.
Victor Diaz was a driver, and Carlos Diaz was a laborer. Police said power washing the tank, which is used to dilute chemicals used in the cleaning process before disposal, was not a regular part of either man’s job.
Investigators are trying to determine if personal protective equipment was available to the men and if they were trained or instructed to wear such protective gear while cleaning the tank.
A call seeking comment from the company’s owner wasn’t immediately returned.
Last year, OSHA cited another North East Linen plant for violations of workplace standards on lethal confined-space hazards, according to UNITE HERE, a laundry workers’ trade union that has been working to unionize North East Linen workers since 2006.
“We are enraged by this preventable and senseless loss of human life,” Wilfredo Larancuent, UNITE HERE’s international vice president, says in a statement. “This tragedy is no accident. It is an irresponsible act of indifference to worker safety by North East Linen.”
“We call on OSHA to conduct a comprehensive investigation into this tragedy and hold North East Linen responsible to the fullest extent allowed by law,” says Eric Frumin, director of Health and Safety for UNITE HERE. “There’s no excuse for two workers to be found dead, without the required protective equipment, without a safe way out and without a way to be safely rescued.”
Funeral services for Victor M. Diaz Jr. were set for today. Details about funeral services for Carlos Diaz weren’t immediately available.