Andrew Lane was using the restroom at work when he was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. Mr. Lane’s crew was cleaning the gutter and pressure washing a home in Oregon when Lane was killed. His employer, Superior Home Maintenance, only provided a bucket for its employees’ restroom needs. So when 22 year old Lane went to use the bucket in the rear of the work truck, he was poisoned by the carbon monoxide emitted by an adjacent washer.
The tragic incident occurred on May 13, 2014, in the afternoon, after which Lane’s co-workers discovered his body in the rear of the truck. They had been working outside a home, and according to the attorney for the victim’s estate, they were instructed not to use the bathrooms inside the home. The lawsuit depicts the company’s toilet policy for workers as “demeaning, debasing, and dehumanizing.”
In its defense, Superior Home Maintenance claimed that the main cause of the worker’s death was use of methamphetamines, and not carbon monoxide poisoning. While the first autopsy revealed that the victim died from using methamphetamines, a second autopsy determined that carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of death.
The results of the second autopsy were confirmed by a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that was issued in September 2014. According to the report, the pressure washer, which was secured to the floor of the cargo area inside the truck, filled the truck with toxic amounts of carbon monoxide in less than one minute.
Lane’s estate alleges that his employer was aware he suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive disorder that is marked by a sudden and frequent need to use the restroom. OSHA requires that on the majority of jobs, employees have reasonable access to toilet facilities. An investigation conducted by OSHA disclosed that on the day of the victim’s death, the closest public restroom was eight minutes away from the job site by car.
Just three years ago, in 2012, two workers received a jury award of $332,000 in a lawsuit against their employer, who failed to provide toilet facilities at their job site. Like Andrew Lane, the two men also used a bucket, and after filing a complaint with OSHA, an inspector from OSHA cited the company for neglecting to provide bathroom facilities. The men were terminated from their jobs that same month. As the jurors in that case stated, “having easy access to a toilet is a basic human right.”
Mr. Lane’s death could easily have been prevented if his employer had merely read and taken heed of the warnings outlined in the owner’s manual for the pressure washer. Among the warnings were the following:
- “Exhaust contains poisonous carbon monoxide gas that can build up to dangerous levels in closed areas.”
- “Never run the engine in a closed or even partially closed area where people may be present.”
Had his employer had any respect or concern for him and his co-workers, management would have provided them with adequate toilet facilities. It is unconscionable that so many workers feel that they have to endure inhumane and atrocious conditions in the workplace, and are overcome by feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. And all too often, they don’t complain for fear of losing their jobs, which may be their only source of income.