Months after legislators urged OSHA to conduct a full investigation into safety hazards at industrial facilities owned by Cintas Corp. brought to light by the death of one of its workers, the agency has cited the company and issued fines of $2.78 million — the largest ever levied against a company in the service industry.
The penalties were triggered by the March 2007 death of Eleazar Torres-Gomez, who was killed when he fell into an industrial dryer at the Cintas laundry facility in Tulsa, Okla. Torres-Gomez, who was clearing a jam of wet laundry on a conveyor that carries the laundry from the washer into the dryer, was trapped in the operating dryer for 20 minutes while temperatures soared to 300 F.
OSHA safety inspectors discovered 46 safety violations in the Tulsa plant. Besides penalties stemming from the workplace fatality, the $2.78 million fine included $117,500 for workplace violations found at a Cintas facility in Columbus, Ohio. In addition, OSHA officials said they have opened investigations into Cintas facilities in Alabama and Arkansas, and the company recently was fined $13,650 in the state of Washington for a similar workplace safety violation after a worker's arm was shattered after it got tangled in coveralls hanging from an operating washer.
In response to the citations, Cintas CEO Scott Farmer said in a statement that the company has been cooperating with OSHA to review the incidents, but didn't agree with “certain citations and fines.” Farmer also confirmed with Occupational Hazards that the company will contest the citations.
News of the citation did little to ease the pain of Torres-Gomez's family. His son, Emmanuel Torres-Gomez, said the company hung up on him when he started asking them about the circumstances surrounding his father's death, a charge Cintas vehemently denies. Torres-Gomez also charged that Cintas initially denied giving the family workers'compensation, which the family said they desperately need to sustain themselves.
“To our knowledge, no Cintas representative has hung up on any of the Torres-Gomez's family members. We have treated the family members with the utmost respect during this difficult time,” said Cintas's spokesperson Heather Trainer.
But the worst part for the family is imagining what his father went through during those last few moments of his life, said the younger Torres-Gomez.
“The thought of how my father must have suffered haunts me and my family every day,” he said. “I also think about how Cintas could have prevented this terrible tragedy.”