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Officials eye safety procedures in cesspool hole accident

A worker (red hat) is rescued after he

A worker (red hat) is rescued after he was buried in a cesspool installation collapse. (December 8, 2009) Photo Credit: /Bill Bennett

On the heels of a cesspool construction accident in East Hills that left a worker buried in dirt up to his waist in a deep hole, federal inspectors have begun probing whether the company performing the job took safety precautions to protect its employees.

Village officials said Wednesday they did not know for sure whether the worker, Mario Flores, 37, of Brentwood, was working in the hole or slipped into it. Officials have estimated the hole at the site was between 20 and 35 feet deep.

The accident touched off a nearly five-hour rescue effort with a massive response from police and fire officials.

Flores works for Antorino Sewer & Drain of Centerport, which was digging a hole for a replacement cesspool in the front yard of a house on Peacock Drive. A village official said Flores and a fellow worker had been completing the stacking of cesspool rings, used to build leaching tanks.

>>PHOTOS: Man trapped in East Hills cesspool

>>VIDEO: See workers rescue man trapped in a cesspool

An investigator for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration visited the site Tuesday, soon after learning of the accident. In Boston Wednesday, OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said he could not say how the agency became aware of the accident.

"We dispatched an investigator to the site and opened an inspection," Fitzgerald said. "If the inspector determines there were violations of standards, OSHA could issue citations and propose fines to the employer."

East Hills Mayor Michael Koblenz said Flores may have walked near the edge of the hole and slipped but he was not sure. Koblenz said the accident revealed that the site was unusually sandy, which may have caused the hole to collapse. Koblenz said village officials had not yet been able to interview witnesses.

"The problem on that site apparently is, where other sites in the village have more clay on the surface, they have lots of sand," Koblenz said.

Antorino had a village permit - granted to an affiliated company, Affordable Cesspool, Sewer & Drain of Islandia. The workers had hit sand and Antorino called the village for an inspector - a normal procedure. Once a cesspool installer hits sand, East Hills requires an inspector to determine whether conditions are right for installation.

"I was going there, but when I got over there, the damage was already done," East Hills building inspector Frank Gagliano said Wednesday. "All I heard was he probably stepped too close to the edge."

Antorino did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Tom Gallagher, president of the Long Island Liquid Waste Association, a Lake Ronkonkoma trade group, said pits for leaching tanks rarely are deeper than 16 feet.

Most installations, Gallagher said, require two separate leaching tanks, according to local building codes. But in some retrofit installations, where yards are small - and that appears to be the case in East Hills - the rings can be stacked to create one larger leaching tank.

>>PHOTOS: Man trapped in East Hills cesspool

>>VIDEO: See workers rescue man trapped in a cesspool

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