Gas deaths not the fault of workers in job-related tragedy

The state Work Safety Inspection agency has ruled that the two workers who perished last November 3 at a biogas production facility in Mārupe were in compliance with work safety regulations, leading to speculation that the employer – the firm Zaļā Mārupe - may in fact have been culpable for the tragic accident.

The families of the deceased told Latvian Television (LTV) news program Panorāma Monday that they would sue the company that employed the fathers of the orphaned children, which has left them to fend for themselves without any compensation for their loss of a parent and only provider.  

Elizabeth was a two-month old when her dad died, now she’s at seven months. Her mother Kristīne Circene claims that plant manager Mārtiņš Vilguts and her husband “Kristaps climbed in and cleaned that cistern out for sixty days in a row. What Kaspars (Brunovskis, company board chairman) said afterwards, that they went in themselves into the gas chamber, well, that was not suicide. They were threatened – if you don’t deal with this job, you’ll be fired. All of you!” she related.

The day immediately following the tragedy Brunovskis told the media “They were not supposed to be in there!” and called them to blame for their own deaths in blatantly violating work safety rules.

However, after interviewing witnesses and inspecting all documentation the State Work Inspection determined the opposite – the blame for the deaths of the two workers may indeed lie with the company leadership, according to Baiba Puķukalne of the Riga Regional Work Inspection department.

“These people were working in a very risky place and their employer did not calculate all of the risks adequately,” she explained.

The Zaļā Mārupe board chairman could no longer be reached for comment.

Plant supervisor Vilguts had been an extremely thorough, even pedantic manager, taking digital photos of every job and saving it into his computer archive, which presumably now serve as evidence, having been confiscated from his loved ones by company representatives along with his telephone.

“All his pictures were in his phone. The police? They haven’t even called me. They’re located right next to the company. Maybe that explains it. I’ve written three requests. I was only deemed a victim on March 9, almost five months since,” said the widow.

Contrary to promises, Zaļā Mārupe has not paid the families any compensations besides a funeral stipend to cover the immediate costs of mourning. Five children now growing without fathers and providers aren’t getting either the essential material or psychological help they are owed. So both families have turned to the courts to try to get them civil damages until the age of eighteen.

State police representatives confirm that a criminal investigation into manslaughter has been launched. “It is known that the cause of death was methane poisoning. The main task of the investigation is to clarify why this happened. Was it the workers themselves or was it something on the part of the company,” police spokesman Dairis Anučins pointed out.

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