LINDEN, N.J. — Two workers died while attempting to clean an industrial-sized chemical holding tank at a commercial launderer and drycleaner in Linden, N.J., late last week.
The victims were found face-down in the empty 20,000-gallon tank at North East Linen Co., formerly known as Morey La Rue Laundry & Dry Cleaning. The men had apparently been overcome by fumes from laundry chemical residues.
A supervisor noticed one of the workers was unconscious around 2:00 p.m., and rescue efforts were thwarted by the toxic fumes. The men, cousins Victor and Carlos Diaz, were pronounced dead three hours later.
Local police and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) have launched investigations into the event. Last year, OSHA cited another North East Linen plant for violations of workplace standards on lethal confined-space hazards, according to a laundry workers’ trade union, UNITE HERE. The company operates three large laundry and drycleaning facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“We are enraged by this preventable and senseless loss of human life,” Wilfredo Larancuent, UNITE HERE’s international vice president, said in a statement. “This tragedy is no accident. It is an irresponsible act of indifference to worker safety by North East Linen.
“Workers at the company have been fighting for safer jobs, better conditions and a voice at work for over a year” in the face of anti-union threats, he continued. “When North East Linen employees work in fear and without union protection, they are at the mercy of their employer’s failure to provide a safe workplace.
“We call on OSHA to conduct a comprehensive investigation into this tragedy and hold North East Linen responsible to the fullest extent allowed by law,” said Eric Frumin, director of Health & Safety for UNITE HERE. “There’s no excuse for two workers to be found dead, without the required protective equipment, without a safe way out and without a way to be safely rescued.”