WASHINGTON — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Thursday proposed $2.78 million in penalties against Ohio-based Cintas Corp. following an investigation into an employee death at the company’s Tulsa, Okla., laundry facility.
Eleazar Torres-Gomez, 46, was killed March 6 when he fell into an operating industrial dryer while clearing a jam of wet laundry on a conveyor that carries the laundry from the washer into the dryer.
“Plant management at the Cintas Tulsa facility ignored safety and health rules that could have prevented the death of this employee,” asserts Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr.
Forty-two willful, instance-by-instance citations allege violations of the OSHA lockout/tagout standard for the failures to shut down and to lock out power to the equipment before clearing jams, and to train four employees responsible to clear jams that lockout/tagout applies and how to perform the operations.
One repeat citation alleges the failure to protect employees from being struck or pinned by the conveyor. Three serious citations allege the failures to protect employees from falls, to have a qualified person inspect the lockout/tagout procedures and to certify the procedures as required.
A willful violation is one committed with intentional disregard of the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act or plain indifference to employee safety or health, OSHA explains. A serious violation is one that could cause death or serious physical harm to employees, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.
Cintas has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to contest them and the proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
UNITE HERE, which has been engaged in a unionization campaign against Cintas for several years, claims the fine is more than four times larger than the previous largest penalty in the service sector for health and safety violations.
Cintas is the largest uniform supplier in North America, with more than 400 facilities employing more than 34,000 people. There are 160 employees at the Tulsa facility.
Amalia Diaz Torres has sued the uniform provider and equipment manufacturer Lavatec in an Oklahoma court in connection with her husband’s death.
“The thought of how my father must have suffered haunts me and my family every day,” says Emmanuel Torres, one of Torres-Gomez’s four surviving children, in a statement cited in a UNITE HERE press release. “We hope our loss will not be in vain, and that Cintas will fix the unsafe conditions in Tulsa and throughout the country.”
In a separate case, OSHA 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 Cintas Columbus, Ohio, facility.
Washington state has issued four citations with proposed fines totaling $13,650, alleging violations for similar hazards at the Yakima Cintas facility. A worker was severely injured there in late February when his arm became tangled in clothes within a large industrial washer, according to reports.
OSHA says it also has opened investigations at Cintas facilities in Arkansas and Alabama.
Members of the U.S. House’s Workforce Protections Subcommittee called for OSHA to conduct a nationwide investigation into hazards at all Cintas laundries after Torres-Gomez’s death.
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