Cal/OSHA Uncovers Dozens of Safety Violations at California Warehouses

The California Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) identified more than 60 safety violations, including fall protection, storage stacking and machine guarding violations, at four San Bernardino County, Calif., warehouses owned by National Distribution Centers. Cal/OSHA proposed $256,445 in fines against the company and its temporary staffing contractor, Tri State Staffing.

"In the warehouse industry, low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable to unsafe working conditions where work is often hidden from public view," said Christine Baker, DIR director. "Hazards include moving vehicles, precariously stacked goods and unguarded equipment."

Three of the four inspected warehouses had a dual-employer relationship, wherein one employer hires workers and provides them to another employer. Both employers potentially are liable for safety and health violations.

"When employers use a contractor for their staffing needs, they are not released from their responsibilities to provide a safe workplace," stressed Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. "As dual employers sharing responsibility for training and worker safety, both National Distribution Centers and Tri State Staffing were responsible for ensuring that all employees are protected on the job."

Heat Stress Concerns

The warehouse inspections were prompted by complaints received from Warehouse Workers United and a worker's heat illness injury in August of 2011. In the heat-related case, Cal/OSHA found that a warehouse employee became ill while working in 90-degree temperatures inside the building.

"It's not just outdoor workers who are vulnerable to heat illness," said Cal/OSHA Chief Widess. "It can also happen indoors in a warehouse on a hot day. Every California employer needs to be aware of heat illness symptoms so that appropriate steps can be taken to prevent serious on-the-job injuries or death."

The employer failed to recognize the symptoms as heat-related or address conditions that led to the worker's illness, issues that are required to be addressed in an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). Every employer in the state of California is required to have an IIPP that addresses the safety hazards associated with their specific work sites.

Warehouse safety and heat stress concerns were brought to the public’s attention in September 2011, when an Allentown, Pa.-based paper exposed alleged safety concerns at a Pennsylvania Amazon warehouse.

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