OSHA no match for workplace dangers that kill thousands

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One day El Campeón took on his last challenge.

The Champion - that's what people at work called Adan Juan Padron. In good shape at 41, he seemed willing to face any danger to feed his family.

Dangers were plentiful. Southeast Texas is refinery and chemical-plant territory, with fuming, square-mile mazes of pipes and towers and flares blazing through humid nights. Their output fuels the nation.

Their thousands of tanks hold contents that can and often do burn, corrode, poison or explode. Somebody has to clean them, from the inside, by hand.

An oxygen line might fail with no escape. A high-pressure hose might turn on its user. Stuff might crush a skull. A faulty work light might fill a tank with fire.

But Padron and his wife, Herlinda, had three children and another on the way.

So on Feb. 22, 2005, at a Houston methane plant, he crawled through an 18-inch hatch into the bottom of V321B, an empty, waste-encrusted, vertical tank.

For days the crust had resisted hydroblasting. Padron swung his brass pick.

Seconds later, Padron became one of 5,734 U.S. workers killed on the job that year. Hidden in cases like his - and the April 17 fertilizer explosion in West - is a neglected reality of work in America.

Many workers climb, rappel or reach into daily dangers but draw federal notice only by dying. Given limited budgets and frequent political attempts at reducing enforcement even more, inspectors might be absent until a calamity occurs.

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