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Firm Fined $153,720 for Workers' Deaths

Safety: Regulators find eight violations at Tarzana plant where two employees were asphyxiated.

November 15, 2001|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State regulators have fined a Tarzana firm $153,720 for an accident that killed two workers at its metallurgical plant in May.

The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it cited Bodycote Thermal Processing for eight violations, including a $70,000 fine for willfully failing to protect employees from potential asphyxiation from argon and nitrogen gases.

Steven Horan, 36, and Dwayne Pesicka, 43, both of Burbank, died May 17 in a furnace at Bodycote's plant in Tarzana.

"If the employer would have followed proper rules for labor conducted in confined spaces such as these furnaces, the death of these employees could have been avoided," agency spokesman Dean Fryer said.

"What made this even worse is that violations continued in the weeks following the accident," Fryer said. "And the company didn't attempt to change their procedures."

Pesicka, a maintenance worker, was overcome by gas as he replaced a valve in the 9-foot-deep furnace. Horan, a plant engineer who supervised Pesicka and was his best friend, went in after him, but also succumbed to the fumes.

The firm also was fined $25,000 for failing to implement procedures to rescue employees who might be overcome by gases used in the industrial process. The agency found the company failed to provide employees with proper body harnesses for rescue in case of emergency, failed to ensure proper ventilation, and failed to provide written emergency procedures.

Messages left at the company's Dallas headquarters and its Tarzana plant were not returned. The firm, which had a clean record with the agency for 11 years before the accident, has until Nov. 27 to appeal.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office is conducting a criminal investigation into the incident.

The plant specializes in heat treatment for airplane parts and other metals. Processes use cylindrical vacuum furnaces 6 feet in diameter that can reach up to 2,000 degrees. High temperatures oxidize metal, while the gases nitrogen and argon help treat it, officials said. Argon is a nonflammable gas that depletes oxygen.

Cal/OSHA concluded that an air sample was not taken immediately before the worker entered the furnace, as required by law. In addition, the company failed to comply with state law requiring that at least two people work together, one inside and another outside watching in case of an emergency.

The agency also concluded that the firm failed to provide a respirator with a facemask that would have allowed a rescuer to enter safely.

Betty Horan said she and her three children were devastated by the loss of her husband but proud of his heroism.

"His final act showed the kind of man he was," she said.

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