The Brooklyn tortilla manufacturers were cited for a total of 34 alleged violations of workplace safety and health standards following inspections conducted as a result of the January death of Juan Baten, a 22-year-old Guatemalan immigrant worker who had worked at the factory for 6 years. OSHA’s inspection found that the mixer was not guarded to prevent employees from coming into contact with its points of operation.
Baten had reached into the machine and his hand became caught in the blades. He was pulled into the mixer and suffered a broken neck.
“Proper and effective machine guarding would have eliminated this hazard and prevented this young worker’s death,” said Kay Gee, OSHA’s area director for Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. “This was a clearly recognizable hazard that should have been addressed.”
In addition to other machine guarding hazards identified during the inspection, Tortilleria Chinantla lacked a lockout/tagout program to prevent the unintended startup of machinery, a chemical hazard communication program and the required training for operators of powered industrial trucks. The company also failed to record the worker’s death on its illness and injury log. As a result, Tortilleria Chinantla was cited for one willful, six serious and one other-than-serious violation, carrying a total of $62,400 in proposed fines.
A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
In response to reports of possible hazards, OSHA also inspected two other tortilla manufacturers: Buena Vista Tortillas Corp. and La Tortilleria Mexicana Los Tres Hermanos Corp. Buena Vista Tortillas was cited for 13 serious and one other-than-serious violation with $39,000 in proposed fines for machine guarding, electrical, lockout/tagout, fire extinguisher, exit route, hazard communication and fall hazards. La Tortilleria Mexicana Los Tres Hermanos was cited for 12 serious violations with $33,600 in proposed fines for machine guarding, electrical, exit route, powered industrial truck and formaldehyde hazards.
“What is particularly disturbing is that we found a number of similar hazards at all three facilities,” said Gee. “While no fatalities have occurred at the other locations, I call upon these and other similar employers to review their workplaces to identify and eliminate hazards.”
“Safeguarding workers against occupational injuries and illnesses depends in great part on ensuring that workers know and understand the hazards and safeguards associated with their jobs. That is especially important in workplaces where English may not be the employees’ primary language,” said Diana Cortez, OSHA’s regional diverse workforce coordinator. “Employers must provide information and training in a way their workers will understand. OSHA has numerous resources available for Spanish-speaking workers and employers. I encourage both groups to seek out this vital information online or in person.”
Detailed safety and health information including publications, fact sheets, standards and interactive eTools are available in Spanish at http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/spanish/index.html. OSHA also can provide safety and health information in other languages.
“One means by which employers can enhance safety and health in their workplaces is by establishing and maintaining an illness and injury prevention program, in which employers and employees work together to identify and eliminate hazards before they cause harm,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York.
Following the death of Batten, the state Workers’ Compensation Board issued a stop-work order at the Williamsburg facility after learning the factory’s owner, Erasmo Ponce, was not offering workers’ compensation insurance to his employees. The owner had to acquire insurance and pay state fines before reopening.
Each employer has 15 business days from receipt of citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.