California workplace safety regulators recently cited a Greater Cincinnati company for failing to fix a potentially lethal hazard at its Stockton, Calif., laundry facility — even after a worker was killed by the same equipment at the company's Tulsa, Okla., facility earlier this year.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) issued a special order against Cintas. It stated that workers risked becoming "entrapped in, entangled in or struck by" plant equipment and laundry materials during the plant’s "normal operations." Investigators found 15 instances of hazardous conditions, most involving automated conveyors in Stockton that carry hundreds of pounds of laundry at a time from the industrial washers to the dryers.
Special orders are issued to remedy dangerous working conditions that are not covered by existing safety standards. Cintas has been ordered to comply by Jan. 4, 2008, but may choose to contest the order, which would delay any action to make the equipment safer.
Cal/OSHA’s order mandates that Cintas erect a barrier around industrial washers, dryers and conveyors in the plant’s wash alley. When a person enters the wash area, automatic switches will turn off the hazardous machinery.
The Stockton edict marks the fourth time in three months that federal or state safety inspectors have cited a Cintas facility for exposing workers to inadequately guarded machinery.
In August, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed an unprecedented $2.78 million fine against Cintas for similar violations that led to the death of the Tulsa worker, Eleazar Torres-Gomez. Cintas is appealing the fine but, if upheld, if upheld, it would be the largest ever penalty issued in the service sector for health and safety violations.
The Stockton incident is prompting members of Congress to renew their call for an investigation of all Cintas facilities nationwide. The House Workforce Protections Subcommittee recently sent a letter to OSHA demanding action.
The letter states, “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 uncover as quickly as possible other locations where workers may be at risk.”
The letter was signed by Subcommittee Chair Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Phil Hare (D-Ill.), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Timothy Bishop (D-NY) and Carol Shea Porter (D-NH).
Also, workers, community leaders, clergy and labor activists will hold a vigil Tuesday outside Cintas’ corporate headquarters in Mason as the company holds its annual shareholder meeting.
Records show that Cintas has been cited for more than 170 OSHA violations in its facilities nationwide since 2003. Of that number, more than 70 citations were violations that OSHA determined could cause “death or serious physical harm.”
In fact, Cintas has paid nearly $200,000 in initial penalties, including more than $30,000 in penalties for “repeated” violations of the same identical standards in multiple company locations.
Overall, OSHA inspectors have found multiple hazards or violations in 31 of the 42 inspections that they have conducted in that period — for an astonishing 75 percent rate of failure.
Last year the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health listed Cintas as one of “America's 12 most dangerous employers.”
— Kevin Osborne