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Safety Tips | FACE Reports

FACEValue: Body of compost facility worker found in digester tube

December 1, 2011

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NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Reports
#2010-01
Date of incident: July 22, 2010

A 50-year-old man died at a solid waste facility while working as a picker on a tipping floor, separating compostable from non-compostable trash. The victim was working with one other co-worker at the time. According to procedure, once the waste had been separated, the picker would visually signal a co-worker in a front-end loader to move the compostable material into an open digester pit. Radios were not used because of the perceived ease of maintaining visual contact. The material then was pushed into the digester tube by a hydraulic ram that would continuously cycle until all material was cleared from the pit. On the date of the incident, co-workers became concerned about the victim’s whereabouts, so they contacted public safety officials. Emergency workers searched the area, finally discovering the victim’s body three days later in one of the tubes approximately 10 feet from the loading end. The victim, who had a history of cardiovascular disease, had been suffering infrequent fainting spells. It is surmised that he experienced a medical episode and fell near the pit opening. 

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Employers should implement traffic controls and worker accountability procedures so equipment operators are aware of worker locations.
    In this case, the victim did not have a radio and instead relied on visual signals. However, the loader operator continued working without the victim’s clearance to proceed. Had the victim been alive but unable to communicate or free himself from the pit, halting operation of trucks and the front-end loader may have increased his chance of survival.
  • When possible, employers should install physical barriers that protect workers from falling through floor openings and train employees on safe work practices.
    In this case, it was difficult to design a guard for the floor opening because the opening was an integral part of the work process. A mechanized, removable railing and signage identifying the location of an opening in the floor surface could have mitigated some hazards.

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