OSHA: Sandusky County farm worker killed by pig manure

By Rebecca R. Brooks, Gannett Writer
From the Fremont News-Messenger

CLYDE, OH -- A 32-year-old Fremont farm worker's death in October was due to exposure to pig manure, according to a ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Humberto “Antonio” Padua Hernandez was found unresponsive on a Vickery farm Oct. 31 after being exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas released from liquefied pig manure that was being loaded into a tanker truck, according to Kim Nelson, director of the OSHA Toledo office.

OSHA on Wednesday said W.E. Soil Enhancement of Clyde/Bellevue was cited March 18 in Hernandez's death and penalized for three serious safety violations.

Nelson said Thursday that employers must notify OSHA of fatalities on the job, and the agency began its investigation the day Hernandez died.

Liquid manure was being pumped into the tanker truck to be used as fertilizer, she said.

“In this type of thing, I can tell you this industry is well aware of the hazardous gases in handling liquid manure,” Nelson said.

"Symptoms from overexposure to hydrogen sulfide gas can come on rapidly and quickly overcome a worker," Nelson said. "The agriculture industry needs to educate its employees that the foul odors that come with manure spreading are not just unpleasant, they are unsafe and can be deadly. It is imperative that farm workers are protected from inhaling these gases."

In its investigation, OSHA determined that W.E. Soil Enhancement should have provided engineering controls and respiratory protection for workers exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas; developed and trained workers on a hazard communications program; and identified and evaluated respiratory hazards.

OSHA has proposed a $16,800 penalty. W.E. Soil Enhancement has 15 business days to respond in a letter or seek an informal conference with officials at the Toledo office. A letter notifying the Clyde company of OSHA findings was sent by registered mail, Nelson said, but OSHA has not yet received confirmation of delivery.

W.E. Soil Enhancement LLC owners are listed as Kyle Wagner and Richard Eshleman on the Ohio Secretary of State's website. A representative of the company could not be reached for comment Thursday.

“We don’t have any prior history with this company,” Nelson said. “We’re saddened when we see an unneeded death like this.”

The case is still open and a final determination has not been made until the company goes through due process, she added.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has issued warnings on the dangers of noxious gases emitted from manure and lists a number of fatal accidents involving manure pits.

Agriculture is among the most dangerous occupations in America, with 143 deaths recorded in the industry in 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.