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No Safety Violations Uncovered in Death of Refuse Handler at Landfill : Investigation: However, new safety measures are ordered to prevent a repeat of the mysterious fatality.

October 01, 1991|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State investigators found no safety violations that might have led to the death Aug. 8 of an Escondido garbage man at the San Marcos landfill, officials said Monday.

Nonetheless, county officials have ordered several changes in the operating procedures at county landfills that they hope will prevent the recurrence of such an accident, when Guillermo Ceseno was mysteriously killed and covered with 6 feet of garbage.

From now on, when garbage men operate in pairs, both men will be required to be in the truck when it dumps its load or moves around the landfill, said Bill Worrell, deputy director of the county Department of Public Works.

"That would have prevented this accident," Worrell said.

In addition, trash haulers will be required to wear bright safety vests when they're at the landfill, Worrell said.

Don Amos, manager of Cal-OSHA's district office in San Diego, said there were no technical safety deficiencies on the part of the county, Herzog Contracting Corp., which operates the landfill on behalf of the county, or Escondido Disposal, whose employee was killed.

Escondido Disposal was found in violation of four items in relation to the company's injury and illness prevention program--guidelines instituted by the state July 1. But those violations, which carry no monetary fine, involved documentation and other technical matters and had no bearing on Ceseno's death in August, Amos said.

The circumstances leading to Ceseno's death may never be known, Amos said.

Ceseno was a helper, or so-called "swamper," who opened the back doors and was last seen standing a few feet off to the side, and parallel to the rear, of the garbage truck as it was being unloaded at the landfill by the truck's driver.

The driver moved the truck away from the dumping spot to wash it and didn't notice Ceseno missing until 20 minutes later, when he was ready to return to Escondido and looked for his partner.

Ceseno's disappearance sparked a frantic, all-day search by co-workers, emergency crews and others before his body was finally discovered late that night, buried beneath 6 feet of garbage.

He had suffocated and had sustained numerous broken bones.

The question of whether Ceseno was felled by the garbage, was hit by a bulldozer or had tripped and fallen and then was hit by a bulldozer, is simply a matter of speculation, authorities have concluded.

Amos said that, as far as Cal-OSHA is concerned, the case is closed.

The county's own Department of Health Services conducted its own investigation into the accident, and two of its recommendations to the county's Department of Public Works, which oversees the landfills, are being implemented, said Worrell.

One recommendation was that landfill workers and drivers wear safety vests, and the other that both partners of a garbage truck be in the vehicle when it dumps its trash and when it moves around at the site.

Most of the garbage trucks are driven and operated by only one man anyway, Worrell noted, "so it was easy to convince the industry that if they've got a second man on the truck, he should be in the cab after he opens the back doors, but before they start to unload."

He said the county has not yet written up the new policies, but they are already being implemented by the trash-hauling companies anyway.

That's the case at Escondido Disposal, said Jack McDermott, its general manager.

"We've already implemented that policy," he said. "It was informal even before the accident, but now it's a formal policy of our company."

He said the fact that Cal-OSHA found no complaint with his company's operations at the landfill itself "shows that we are a very safety-conscious company."

Other recommendations made by the county's Department of Health Services were that trucks be no closer than 15 feet to one another when unloading their garbage, that bulldozer operators sound a horn whenever they move forwards or backwards, that so-called "spotters" at the landfill be equipped with audible alarm devices or megaphones to communicate pending emergencies, and that additional spotters be placed around the landfill to better direct the flow of trucks and oversee operations.

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