Bay Area Briefs

Monday October 21, 2002

Health products company fined in employee deaths 

PETALUMA – A health products company has been ordered to pay a $137,895 fine for the deaths of two workers who died while cleaning a steel tank. 

Spectrum Organic Products Inc. was cited for multiple safety violation by the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including failing to provide proper training and safety equipment to employees who clean the tanks. 

The tanks are used to process flaxseed oil for use in a variety of organic food and health products, which are sold nationwide. 

Spectrum has 15 days to appeal $137,895 in fines. Company officials said they would appeal the fines. 

After Javier Del Rio, 42, and Francisco Estrella, 24, died inside the 12-foot high tank, company executives said both men performed the cleaning regularly and that they had been properly and recently trained. 

Police investigators concluded that Estrella died trying to rescue Del Rio from the tank, which was full of argon gas, used to displace oxygen as part of a cleaning process. 

Cal-OSHA spokesman Dean Fryer said the following of proper procedure would have prevented the deaths, and that the company bears sole responsibility. 

OSHA cited the company for not posting danger signs, having no training program, and for not informing employees about the dangers of working in the oil processing tank. 

The agency also found that Spectrum didn’t provide respirators, communications gear or emergency rescue equipment for workers performing the kind of work Estrella and Del Rio were doing when they died. 

All of the violations have since been corrected, according to Fryer. 


Con man gets three years 

REDDING – A San Francisco man who posed as a silver dealer was sentenced to three years in prison for stealing $4,099 from two Shasta County women. 

Serge Alexandre, 76, claimed to be a dealer for Westmoreland Sterling Silver and offered the women a discount if they paid in advance for their silver order. 

He kept the cash without delivering the merchandise to the women, authorities said. 

Alexandre pleaded guilty to two counts of theft from an older person.