A Bangor Water District employee died last year while working at the district's standpipe at Cleveland Street and Venture Way. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A Bangor Water District employee suffered a heart attack and died while cleaning a city water tower last year, which led a state labor agency to cite the utility for violating workplace safety rules, according to government records and a Bangor police report.

The maintenance worker was removing sludge from a water tower at Cleveland Street and Venture Way in Bangor when he collapsed on Sept. 21, 2021, around 11:30 a.m. He had been squeegeeing the floor of the tank and asked another employee for a vacuum hose, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Another employee told police they had been speaking to the worker while he was on a break. The employee continued speaking with the worker after he returned to work, until he stopped replying, according to the police report.

Other workers pulled the man out of the tower and performed CPR until paramedics arrived. They pronounced him dead at the scene after he suffered a cardiac arrest, according to the police report.

The Bangor Water District never publicly announced the worker’s death, as other public agencies have when people die on the job, and it has not been reported until now. District trustees discussed the incident in two meetings on Oct. 19, 2021, and Jan. 18, according to meeting minutes. The violation notice was posted to the website of the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standard sometime between June and August.

The Bangor Water District acknowledged the employee’s loss in a Facebook post days after his death, but did not say it was an on-the-job death.

The Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards cited the Bangor Water District for two serious violations and one less-than-serious violation after inspecting the water tower on Sept. 24, 2021, three days after the employee’s death. 

The agency found the public utility hadn’t provided safety training or properly isolated the tower’s fill valve or mixer before the worker put his upper body into the tank. The calibration gas for the tank’s confined space had also expired, and the water district lacked appropriate procedures for entering confined spaces.

The water utility conducted an internal investigation in conjunction with the state labor investigation and found that the worker’s death was not caused by the workplace, General Manager Kathy Moriarty said.

“This was a tragic event and loss for our employee’s family, as well as our employees and our Board of Trustees,” she said. “Our thoughts are and have been with the family. We are unable to offer additional information due to privacy concerns.”

The state labor department reduced the penalties from $1,400 to $140 after determining that the Bangor Water District had corrected all of the violations, according to a Feb. 28 letter from Bureau of Labor Standards Director Michael Roland.

The Bangor Water District paid that fee, according to Maine Department of Labor spokesperson Jessica Picard.

Correction: The excerpt of a previous version of this story included an inaccurate statement. The Bangor Water District informed public agencies of the death and did not fail to disclose it.

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Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.