House Leaders Want Cintas Inquiry

Congressional leaders sent a letter to OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. urging him to to call for a full investigation into the safety hazards at industrial laundry facilities owned by Cintas Corp., following the March 6 death of a worker.

In the letter, U.S. Reps. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., Phil Hare, D-Ill., Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., and other Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and Labor's Workforce Protections Subcommittee urge Foulke to “undertake immediate investigation of all Cintas laundries – both in federal jurisdiction and in those covered by state plans.”

The legislators want to know if all Cintas facilities have the same faulty equipment that caused the death of Eleazar Torres-Gomez, who became trapped in an industrial dryer for at least 20 minutes after he was dragged in by a large robotic conveyor used to transfer uniforms from washers to dryers. (For more, read “Unions Demand OSHA Probe of Cintas.”)

They also want to know what measures OSHA has in place to ensure that serious health and safety problems identified at the Cintas facility in Tulsa, Okla., are not repeated in the company's facilities across the United States.

“What happened on Tuesday is a moral outrage,” Woolsey said. “OSHA has the responsibility to immediately undertake a full and complete investigation into how, after repeated citations for safety violations, these conditions were allowed to continue. They must ensure that the same safety standards are enforced naturally.”

A call made to OSHA was not immediately returned.

According to the letter, OSHA inspectors were called in to investigate the company's Central Islip, N.Y., facility at the request of employees after OSHA's Directorate of Compliance issued a special interpretation letter on July 7, 2005, alerting employers and workers about the need for special protection from robotic laundry shuttle equipment such as the ones used in Cintas' Tulsa plant. OSHA cited the plant for various violations, but it wasn't until May 2006 that Cintas fixed the violations by installing guarding technology to protect workers, the House representatives allege.

The letter states that “it would appear, however, that Cintas failed to address the same deadly hazards in its Tulsa plant.”

“The fact that someone died simply doing their job is unconscionable,” Hare said. “I am deeply troubled that Cintas was forewarned that such a tragedy should occur.”

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