Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.

Zachary Henzerling, a 20 year old ” big kid at heart,” was on his third week at work for Environmental Enterprises Inc., a hazardous waste management facility in Spring Valley, Ohio, when he was killed 2012 in a flash fire and explosion on Dec. 28, 2012.

Last week the company plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide in the death of Henzerling. The company got off easy:

The Spring Grove Village company was initially charged with reckless homicide, a felony, which was later amended to negligent homicide, a misdemeanor. Other counts of involuntary manslaughter, a felony, and four counts of violating the terms of a solid waste license were dropped.
Charges against Henzerling’s supervisor, 33-year-old Kyle Duffens, were also dropped as a part of the plea agreement.


“This is definitely a company that was bound to kill someone and when the did, they got a slap on the wrist.”


Henzerling’s death was particularly heartbreaking (and listen to the video):

James Henzerling could barely recognize his son Zach’s charred body on the hospital bed where he was fighting for his life. Zach Henzerling was blinded from melted safety goggles that oozed into his eyes, and 90 percent of his body was covered in thick, black burns.
As he watched his only child on the cusp of death, the only way Henzerling could show his son that he was there was by holding his bare foot – the only part of his body that had not been burned.

Despite the guilty plea, the company continues to claim it was baseless.

In a statement, the company said the fire was a result of a shipment of mislabeled air filters.
“EEI was not alerted to (the air filters’) highly flammable nature,” said president Dan McCabe. “We had no idea we were shipped something that would explode. Had we known, we would have never accepted the shipment.”

But the OSHA report says otherwise:

According to federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration records, Henzerling was working the third shift with the coworker to process oxidizing oxygen filters contaminated with sodium chlorate, which is a noncombustible solution that can accelerate the burning of surrounding combustible materials.
After being instructed by his manager to break apart the wire mesh filter holder in order to speed up the dissolving process, “one employee asked the supervisor if they could use a portable electric reciprocating saw to cut apart the wire mesh holding the filters,” an OSHA report states. As Henzerling was holding the filter near his midsection, the employee noticed smoke emitting from the filter. A series of three blasts occurred, engulfing the room in flames. The employee working with Henzerling stayed with him until paramedics arrived.
In June 2013, OSHA issued 16 “serious” and four “willful” violations of OSHA standards. A willful violation is the most serious breach of OSHA’s rules and indicates “the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”

The citations included violations of standards covering the company’s failure to train employees, ventilate the flammable storage room, no written housekeeping program for arsenic and other chemicals, inadequate decontamination procedures and written emergency response plan, and precautions had not been taken to prevent ignition of flammable vapors in the flammable storage room.

OSHA’s initial penalties totaled $294,300 and the company was added to OSHA’s Severe Violators List. The penalties were later reduced in a settlement to $45,000.

The company had been cited for a variety of violations related to explosions, accidents and injuries dating all the way back to 1976.

One observer who was familiar with the case and requested anonymity,  observed that “This is definitely a company that was bound to kill someone and when the did, they got a slap on the wrist.”

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