Cintas Faces Historic $2.8 Million Fine

Aug. 17, 2007
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 totaling $2.78 million - the largest ever levied against a company in the service industry.

The penalties were issued following an investigation into 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 found a total of 46 safety violations in the Tulsa plant. Forty-two willful, instance-by-instance citations allege violations of the OSHA lockout/tagout standard for failing to shut down and to lock out power to the equipment before clearing jams, and for failing to train four employees responsible for clearing jams in lockout/tagout procedures and how to perform lockout/tagout.

Foulke: Death Could Have Been Prevented

One repeat citation alleges the failure to protect employees from being struck or pinned by the conveyor. Three serious citations allege the failure to protect employees from falls, to have a qualified person inspect the lockout/tagout procedures and to certify the procedures as required.

“Plant management at the Cintas Tulsa laundry facility ignored safety and health rules that could have prevented the death of this employee,” said OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr.

OSHA also inspected the company's Columbus, Ohio, facility, as well as ones in Arkansas, Alabama and Washington, an OSHA State Plan state. The agency issued five repeat and two serious citations with penalties totaling $117,500 for violations of the lockout/tagout and machine guarding standards found at the Columbus facility.

A worker was seriously injuried at a Yakima, Wash., Cintas facility on Feb. 22, when arm was shattered after getting tangled in the straps of coveralls hanging from a washer that was in operation. The Washington Industrial Safety and Health Administration (WISHA) issued four citations with proposed fines totaling $13,650, alleging similar lockout/tagout violations at the Yakima facility. For more on this, read "Cintas Cited for Safety Violations Following Employee Injury.".

Cintas To Discuss Citations and Fines With OSHA

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.”

“It’s important to note that much of what the inspectors found was in compliance, reflecting our long-standing commitments to workplace safety,” he said.

Cintas also confirmed with that it will contest the citations, which Farmer hinted at in his statement. “While we respectfully disagree with the inspectors’ opinions, we look forward to our chance over the next several weeks to present our insight and evidence to the agency as we work toward a resolution,” Farmer said.

The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to contest them and proposed penalties, according to OSHA.

Hare: Citation a “Wake-Up Call” For Cintas

Rep. Phil Hare D-Ill., a member of the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee, said that the “multi-million dollar citation should serve as a wakeup call to Cintas that it has both a moral and legal obligation to protect its employees.”

“OSHA's findings prove that Cintas' inaction led to the death of Mr. Torres-Gomez--despite the company's ridiculous allegations that he tried to commit suicide or was too 'stupid' to operate the machinery,” Hare said alluding to a statement released by Cintas that placed the blame on Torres-Gomez for not following “established safety rules.” For more, read "Cintas Blames Worker for His Own Death."

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 the company 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 Heather Trainer, Cintas's public relations manager.

But the worst part for the family is imagining what is father went through during those last few moments of his life, said Emmaunuel 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.”

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