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Worker Dies In Vat of Molasses. Cause of Death Under Investigation

An investigation is ongoing in the death of a 23-year-old Michigan man who died in a molasses tank last month.

Robert Herweyer was helping to pump out a 12-foot-tall vat at Agri-Science Technologies in Saugatuck, Michigan when the molasses level became too low to reach the pump-out valve. Herweyer put on a pair of wading boots and a safety mask so he could descend into the tank via a forklift and straps to adjust the valve. According to a co-worker, Herweyer grabbed the straps to start the climb back out of the tank, but suddenly stopped. After calling to Herweyer and receiving no response, co-workers sought help. It is believed Herweyer had been submerged in the molasses for at least four minutes before his boss was able to cut through the tank and pull him out. Although the sheriff’s department hasn’t yet issued an official cause of death, a doctor said Herweyer’s had syrup in his lungs and died from drowning. The man leaves behind a wife and soon-to-be first child.

It is unclear what happened, but authorities believe fumes or a medical episode may have played a part in his death. Michigan’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating to make sure there were no workplace violations, but it may take months to reach a conclusion.

If it is determined that the cause was due in part, or whole, to negligence or defective parts or equipment, it will be imperative to put the proper measures in place so such a tragedy does not happen again.

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