Small businesses are inherently much more nimble than large corporations are. Decisions can be made quickly and because the owner, manager and employees may all know each other very well, the business may have a genuine interest in the well-being of its employees. In a large corporation, there may be much talk of teamwork, but it is unlikely that most of the upper-level managers have ever met many of their employees.
But that does not mean working for a small business is a guarantee of safety in the workplace. Sometimes it merely allows a bad decision to be made more easily. This situation occurred in Michigan, but it could have just as easily occurred in Wisconsin or in a small business located in any state.
The company had a large tank that had been filled with molasses. While cleaning the tank, one worker, with the help of one other, entered the tank with jury-rigged personal protection equipment. He was attempting to adjust the valve and pump out the remaining molasses. He began to climb out of the tank, then he stopped moving. His coworker yelled at him, but he failed to respond.
The owner of the company used a saw to cut open the tank, but the man was in the tank for four or five minutes before his coworkers could begin CPR. He had drowned from inhaling molasses into his lungs.
The situation was made all the more tragic, as his wife was pregnant and his death occurred one week before the baby was due. The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death, but it is likely to take months to complete.
Tanks that contain liquids, gases or even material like grain can be deadly for any worker without the proper training and safety equipment. It is important that all workplaces that contain such tanks have safety procedures in place and rigorously enforce their use.