OSHA fines company where 18-year-old employee fell into sulfuric acid

The circuit-board company where an 18-year-old employee drowned in a vat of sulfuric acid in September did not have adequate protection around its chemical vats, one of 17 health and safety violations, according to a report released Wednesday.

Fernando Gonzalez, 18, died at after slumping head-first into a vat containing sulfuric acid. His death kicked off a California Department of Occupational Safety and Health investigation, which found that the company did not install covers or guardrails on several chemical vats used in circuit-board production, according to a report from OSHA investigator Michael Frye.

The report also found that Coastal Circuits’ vats of sulfuric acid were 24 to 32 inches tall, far below the 36-inch state requirement. Gonzalez was not wearing safety glasses, a respirator or a smock when he died, although those items were available at the factory, Frye said.

Coastal Circuits has fixed eight of the violations and will remedy the remainder immediately, company spokesman Sam Singer said. The firm has until Feb. 18 to correct the problems and pay $3,800 in fines.

The company, where several of Gonzalez’s family members work, “is still emotionally scarred by Fernando’s death,” Singer said.

But the violations do not explain exactly what led Gonzalez to plunge into the vat before he drowned, OSHA spokeswoman Kate McGuire said. Redwood City police Sgt. Chris Cesena said he was working alone in the factory at the time he died.

“No one knows what really happened — we can only imagine,” McGuire said.

At the time of his death, police speculated that Gonzalez was overcome by fumes and passed out. No foul play was suspected, and police are no longer investigating the case, Cesena said.

“Measurements … indicated no concentrations of airborne contaminants that would have been high enough to cause a person to lose consciousness or become disoriented,” Frye said.

Other employees reported that there were times when ammonia fumes were irritating, the report said. However, high ammonia levels probably would have forced Gonzalez to leave the work area, Frye said.

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office is still investigating the incident to determine whether it will file any criminal or civil charges against Coastal Circuits, Assistant District Attorney Karen Guidotti said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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