A worker cleaning a Raani Corp. chemical tank in llinois last year was burned over 80 percent of his body when by a 185-degree solution of water and citric acid – and his supervisor refused to call 911.

Carlos Centeno arrived at Loyola Hospital Burn Center 98 minutes later – after having first been driven to a local occupational health clinic by a co-worker. He died of his injuries three weeks later.

In a gripping account of Centeno’s accident and the hazards at the Raani Corp. facility by the Center for Public Integrity, “They were not thinking of him as a human being,”  the Center’s Jim Morris and WBEZ ’s Chip Mitchell reveal the dangerous conditions faced by many of America’s 2.5 million temporary, or contingent, workers – a workforce injured more frequently than permanent employees, and whose injuries often go unrecorded.

OSHA enforcer calls for criminal prosecution

An 11-page OSHA memorandum obtained by the Center argues that conditions and safety breakdowns in the Bedford, Illinois plant warrant criminal prosecution — a rarity in worker death cases.

Raani’s “lack of concern for employee safety was tangible” and injuries in its factory were “abundant,” Thomas Galassi, head of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, wrote in the memo to David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

“The EMT’s were horrified and angered at the employer, for not calling 911 at the scene and further delaying his care by transferring him to a clinic instead of a hospital,” Galassi’s memo says.

According to the memo:

  • Workers at the facility were often hurt and injuries were not properly recorded
  • Inadequate PPE was in use. An OSHA inspection the day after Centeno died found workers handling corrosives and while wearing only medical grade latex gloves. Employees interacted with high temperature liquids wearing only latex gloves and tee-shirts.
  • A manager explained that employees could obtain thick gloves if they wanted to use them, but they were kept in the maintenance department “because they were expensive and the employees stole them.”

Centeno wore no protective gear other than rubber boots and latex gloves in the factory, which makes household and personal-care products.

The "most disturbing" case he ever encountered

Raani managers failed to put Centeno under a safety shower after he was burned and did not call 911 even though his skin was peeling and he was clearly in agony.

“On May 15, OSHA proposed a $473,000 fine against Raani for 14 alleged violations, six of which are classified as willful, indicating ‘plain indifference’ toward employee safety and health,” according to the Center’s report. “No decision has been made on whether the case will be referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution, agency spokesman Jesse Lawder said. OSHA hadn’t inspected the Raani factory for 18 years prior to the accident.”

Centeno’s accident was not an isolated incident. Galassi’s memo indicated five injuries at the plant since 2010 that went unreported, a host of others involving chemical burns and cuts that were common at the plant. “One worker who had been burned and whose skin was peeling was told by a manager “to leave it alone, it wasn’t dangerous,” he wrote.

John Newquist, who retired from OSHA in September after 30 years with the agency, said the case was among the most disturbing he encountered as an assistant regional administrator in Chicago.

“I cannot remember a case where somebody got severely burned and nobody called 911,” said Newquist, a former compliance officer who investigated more than 100 fatal accidents during his career. “It’s beyond me.”

Click here to read the article by the Center for Public Integrity.