10.21.19

FOLLOWING JULY’S HEARTBREAKING DEATH OF ROCHESTER TODDLER, SCHUMER JOINS VICTIM’S MOTHER TO EXPOSE GAPING LOOPHOLES IN FED GREASE TRAP REGS; SENATOR DEMANDS OSHA ADOPT COMMON-SENSE SAFETY REGS FOR GREASE TRAP LIDS ASAP, BEFORE THEY CAUSE MORE TRAGEDY

In July, A Rochester 3-Year Old, Bryce Raynor, Fell Through A Plastic Grease Trap Lid & Died; Yet Still, There Are No Specific Federal Rules Protecting From Grease Trap Tragedies 

To Address Gaping Loophole ASAP, Schumer Calls On OSHA To Establish Stringent Grease Trap Regs, Mandate Lids Lock, Are Durable & Include Backup Protections   

Schumer To Feds: Set Safety Rules For Grease Traps Before They Become Death Traps 

Following a tragic and fatal accident outside of a Rochester Tim Horton’s location, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today sounded the alarm on the dangerous lack of federal safety standards related to grease traps and their lids. Grease traps, which are also known as grease interceptors, that are stored outdoors and underground present unique safety threats to workers, passersby, and especially children, who risk falling into them and drowning, suffocating, or being exposed to deadly chemicals, gases and toxins.

Schumer pointed to the heartbreaking incident in Rochester this July, where 3-year-old Bryce Raynor fell through a grease trap cover and fatally drowned, and other incidents across the country, as shedding light on the desperate need for federal safety requirements for these covers. Moreover, Schumer said, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established standards to help guard against workplace fall hazards in general, it has not done so for grease traps specifically, failing to account for the unique threats they pose. To address this fatal gap in federal regulations, Schumer called on OSHA, under its authority, to set comprehensive, safety-promoting rules and requirements on grease traps, including that their covers be padlocked, be made of metal or heavy-duty material, and include backup protection, ensuring that no more lives are unnecessarily lost during horrific and preventable accidents.

“The devastating tragedy in Rochester, where we lost a young child far too soon, and others from one corner of the country to the other, show us one thing above all else: grease traps, containing horribly dangerous materials, toxins and chemicals, are woefully under-regulated. Unsecured grease trap covers are both a recipe for disaster and way more common than they should be, and we must close these gaps in safety requirements before any more lives are lost to preventable accidents,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I’m calling on OSHA, to double down and lock in new specific grease trap safety standards, to include that covers are locked or made of child-proof cast iron or heavy-duty material, and to require that they contain back-up protection mechanisms to prevent unsuspecting workers, children and passerby from falling in. The heartbreak and loss suffered by Tenitia Cullum and her family is felt by all of us here in Rochester, leaving a scar that will never fully heal, and I’m going fight tirelessly to prevent one more grease trap from turning into a death trap.”

Schumer first highlighted the incident in Rochester as showing a need for significantly more stringent federal grease trap safety standards. On July 15, 2019, Bryce Raynor, the 3-year-old son of a fast food restaurant employee in Rochester, fell into an unsecured grease trap located ten feet from the back entrance of the restaurant and fatally drowned. Schumer explained that the ground-level, two-foot-wide plastic trap cover was in an area frequently trafficked by employees, and was also widely accessible to customers and the public. Security camera footage later revealed that as the young boy walked to the cover it flipped open, he fell through the opening, and the lid pivoted back into place closing the hole, so his fall went undetected for several minutes until he was eventually discovered too late. Additionally, in October 2017, tragedy struck in Auburn, Alabama, when a 3-year-old girl died after falling into a grease trap outside of an ice cream shop. In 1996 outside a Shreveport, Louisiana restaurant, a five-year-old boy died shortly after a grease trap lid allegedly gave way after he stepped on it.  Schumer said there is no excuse for losing life well before its peak or subjecting workers and others to such preventable workplace hazards and that the accident sheds light on the critical need to set standards that will completely secure grease trap covers in the first place. 

Schumer also discussed how grease trap incidents in Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Tennessee confirm this need for standards at the federal level. In March of last year, a 5-year-old girl fell into a grease trap at a restaurant in Tulsa, Oklahoma after its cover was not properly screwed back on. Fortunately, the child’s father was able to save her life by quickly flipping the cover off and pulling her out of the potentially fatal situation. Three years earlier, in January of 2015, a similar incident happened in Appleton, Wisconsin. A 3-year-old boy was walking with his parents and forcefully stomped his foot on what ended up being the unsecured lid to an 8-foot-deep grease trap of a nearby restaurant. He plunged into the pit below, and was also thankfully rescued by his father, only having very minor injuries. And back in 2012, another 5-year-old girl plunged into a grease trap outside of a local fast food restaurant in Clarksville, Tennessee. According to news reports, the grease trap’s removable cover, which included the notice, “Warning: Do not enter. Poison gas,” had been removed from the below-ground storage receptacle. The child was removed from the grease trap by her parents and taken to a nearby hospital, surviving the terrifying accident with no significant health consequences. Schumer argued that while all of these incidents resulted in the best possible endings, they could have been fatal and must be prevented in the future. 

Schumer argued that OSHA’s having established standards to help guard against other workplace fall hazards shows that it should be the agency responsible for setting federal regulations on grease traps and their covers, as they present unique threats to human health and safety. Specifically, Schumer called for the following safety requirements:

  1. That all grease trap covers be secured by a padlock or other type of secured locking mechanism or constructed of round cast iron or comparable material rated for heavy road traffic with sufficient weight to prevent unauthorized access.
  2. All covers must be capable of supporting, without failure, at least twice the maximum intended load that may be imposed on the cover of a grease trap at any one time.
  3. That all grease traps contain a secondary protection device that would prevent an individual from falling in should its cover fail. It is often common for grease trap covers to be placed at ground level in outside or publicly accessible areas where they are trafficked upon by employees, individuals and vehicles. 

Schumer said that these numerous tragic incidents experienced at establishments across the nation, like the one in Rochester, revealed the continued threat of this unique danger and the need to establish and enforce a robust national standard for these covers. The regulations outlined by Schumer, he said, would help to ensure that grease traps across the country are completely secured, and that no more lives are unnecessarily lost.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to OSHA appears below.

Dear Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Sweatt, 

I write to request the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) take immediate steps to establish a new federal standard to close the grease trap workplace safety loophole which was most recently bought to light following a deadly incident three months ago in Rochester, NY.  Currently, no OHSA standard exists specifically addressing grease trap cover safety requirements.   Grease traps, also referred to as grease interceptors, stored outdoors and underground pose uniquely dangerous threats distinct from other fall or safe walking-working surface threats.  Numerous incidents have revealed that if a cover fails and an individual falls into a grease trap, there is a high probability that the incident would be deadly due to drowning, suffocation, or exposure to chemicals, gases, and toxins.  Moreover, grease-filled tanks complicate rescue attempts and even victims that could otherwise be rescued in time often perish because their falls go undetected.   

On July 15, 2019, a 3-year-old son of a fast food restaurant employee in Rochester fatally drowned in an unsecure grease trap located ten feet from the back entrance to the restaurant. The ground-level, two-foot-wide plastic grease trap cover was in an area frequently trafficked by employees and was also accessible to customers and the public.  Security camera footage later revealed that as the young boy walked to the cover it flipped open, he fell through the opening, and the lid pivoted back into place closing the hole and concealing him inside. Within the past decade, there have been many similar incidents and victims in states including Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Alabama.

While OSHA has established standards to help guard against workplace fall hazards, more robust and specific standards for grease trap covers are required to protect against the unique threat. Specifically, I urge OSHA to establish a grease trap cover standard that includes requiring that the cover be specifically secured by a padlock or locking mechanism, or be constructed of round cast iron or comparable material rated for heavy road traffic with sufficient weight to prevent unauthorized access.  All grease trap covers must be capable of supporting without failure, at least twice the maximum intended load that may be imposed on the cover at any one time. Additionally, the standard should require a secondary protection device on all grease traps that would prevent an individual from falling in should a cover fail. It is often common for grease trap covers to be placed at ground level in outside or publicly accessible areas where they are trafficked upon by employees, individuals, and vehicles.     

These numerous tragic incidents experienced at establishments across the nation like the one faced by the family in Rochester have revealed the continued threat of this unique danger and the need to establish and enforce a robust national standard for these covers in order to protect lives. I urge OSHA to take swift action on this matter.

Sincerely,

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