Two Workers at Medline Industries Fall in Collapsed Roof, Risk Exposure to Ethylene Oxide


Waukegan firefighter/paramedics responded about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, October 25, 2016 to a roof collapse, which caused two workers to be exposed to hazardous toxic chemicals at Medline Industries, 1160 South Northpoint Boulevard.

Two employees of Medline Industries were working on ventilation equipment above a toxic environment where equipment is sterilized, according to Waukegan Fire Department Interim Fire Marshal Lt. Steve Lenzi.

The roof underneath the men collapsed and both men fell 15 to 20 feet to a concrete floor below into the room with potentially hazardous material.

When the two men fell through the roof, one was able to grab part of the material and break his fall. Lt. Lenzi told Lake County News Sun/Chicago Tribune reporter Frank S. Abderholden that the man who was able to break his fall, left the room and returned with a respirator for the other injured man.

Firefighters used self-contained breathing apparatus to enter the room while they stabilized the victim and transferred him onto a backboard, and to remove him safely and not cause any other injuries, Lenzi said. Both men were transported to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.

“Firefighters worked hard to quickly recognize and assess the situation and initiate a safe response,” Lenzi said.

“It’s like a building within the building,” Lenzi said. Inside the internal structure, a medical sterilization process uses ethylene oxide, and the products are stored there until gases dissipate to specific safe levels.

The two men that fell were working on the ventilation system for the room below when the collapse occurred.

Lenzi said the accident occurred during the final stage of the process when the amount of ethylene oxide was small, specifically about 5 to 10 parts per million (PPM) range. Regarding the “Excursion limit” OSHA specifies that the employer shall ensure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of Ethylene Oxide in excess of 5 parts of Ethylene Oxide per million parts of air (5 ppm) as averaged over a sampling period of fifteen (15) minutes. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) lists the Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health level (IDLH) at 800 ppm. Ethylene oxide is a colorless flammable gas at room temperature, with a faintly sweet odor, which is misleading because the chemical is also an irritant that has carcinogenic, mutagenic (chronic exposure), narcotic and anesthetic properties.

According to Lenzi, ethylene oxide is one of the most commonly used sterilization methods in the health care industry because of its non-damaging effects for delicate instruments and devices that require sterilization and for its wide range of material compatibility.

Ethylene oxide is used for instruments that cannot tolerate heat, moisture or abrasive chemicals, such as electronics, optical equipment, paper, rubber and plastics. Lenzi said that in Waukegan, there are a few different companies that utilize this product for sterilization.

The cause of the roof/ceiling collapse reportedly is under investigation on Wednesday, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was notified about the incident.

OSHA regulations regarding occupational exposures to Ethylene Oxide are published in Regulations (Standards – 29 CFR) 1910.1047

Medline Industries, Inc., based in Mundelein, Illinois, is a manufacturer and distributor of health care supplies. Customers range from large healthcare systems and independent physician practices to home health patients and their families.

Medline’s manufacturing and distribution capabilities encompass more than 350,000 products ranging from surgical instruments to hand sanitizers.

Only one recent OSHA violation was discovered for Medline Industries in a search of OSHA publications. The Safety/Health inspection case — opened on January 11, 2016 — was reported by the OSHA Inspection Office (Milwaukee) regarding a Medline Industries, Inc. Waukesha, Wisconsin facility. The case is closed, but was rated a “Serious” violation, and involved a penalty of $5,950.

See also …
Chicago Tribune 2 injured in Waukegan industrial accident

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