House Letter Asks for OSHAs Cintas Investigation Status

Democratic members of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections recently sent a letter to OSHA, pressing the agency to deliver more details on its investigation into safety hazards at all industrial laundries, including those owned by Cintas Corp.

Signed by subcommittee chair Lynn Woolsey D-Calif., Phil Hare D-Ill., Donald Payne D-N.J., Timothy Bishop D-N.Y. and Carol Shea Porter D-N.H., the letter references the death of Eleazar Torres-Gomez, who fell into an industrial dryer after trying to clear a jammed conveyor belt at a Cintas laundry in Oklahoma in March 2007.

“With the tragic death of Mr. Torres-Gomez, and the discovery of repeated violations of machine-guarding and lockout standards in four different regions over three years, we feel that it is essential that OSHA uncovers as quickly as possible other locations where workers may be at risk,” wrote the subcommittee members.

Specifically, subcommittee members asked if OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. followed up on his promise to consider launching an Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP) in response to the Cintas violations. An EEP can be implemented after OSHA finds that a company has committed a serious, willful or repeated violation related to the death. Subcommittee members asserted in the letter that Cintas, as well as other industrial facilities around the nation, meet the criteria of such a program.

Members also questioned whether OSHA had obtained all injury, illness and medical records, as well as documents addressing the company’s safety and health and training programs and related materials. And because the violations resulted in a worker’s death, subcommittee members wanted to know if OSHA planned to view the case as a criminal violation and refer it to the Department of Justice.

OSHA: Cintas Violations are Similar in Various Facilities

In August, OSHA proposed a $2.78 million fine against Cintas for the death of Torres-Gomez, the largest service sector citation in American history. Safety inspectors reported 46 illegal hazards in the Tulsa laundry, including 42 willful violations.

More recently, OSHA proposed $196,000 in penalties against Cintas’ Mobile, Ala., facility for 15 safety violations following an inspection on Oct. 31. The agency found the company failed to provide the necessary guarding to protect employees from being caught on conveyors in the plant’s washroom. In addition, the company did not ensure that washroom machines were properly shut down before maintenance and workers were exposed to a potentially fatal fall hazard while they were on top of the conveyors, a hazard OSHA classified as willful.

Many of the violations encountered at the Mobile facility were the same type that caused Torres-Gomez’s death and also were similar to those discovered in other Cintas facilities in New York state in 2004 and 2005, explained Harris Raynor, UNITE HERE international vice president and director of the southern region.

“OSHA’s citation against Cintas in Mobile exposes the company’s continuing disregard for worker safety,” he said. “Instead of preventing future tragedies, Cintas has shamefully focused on hiring expensive health and safety lobbyists, appealing safety inspectors findings, and unfairly shifting the blame for unsafe conditions onto employees.”

OSHA, meanwhile, expressed intent to continue taking “aggressive action” against companies that “show indifference to the safety and health of their employees.”

“As a large, national employer with a history of OSHA inspections and citations for hazards at other facilities, we are disappointed to find so many of the same or similar hazards at this facility,” said Ken Atha, OSHA’s area director in Mobile.

Cintas Forms Safety Council

According to OSHA, Cintas has had approximately 36 inspections at various facilities by federal and state OSHA programs in the past 3 years.

Cintas, however, is trying to show its investors that the company is mending its safety and health track record. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cintas CEO Scott Farmer announced at a shareholder meeting on Oct. 30 that the company has created an executive safety council advised by three national experts – including former OSHA Administrator John Henshaw – to identify areas for improvement.

The article said Farmer emphasized that the company was improving its education and training efforts at its laundry facilities.

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