Uniform Supplier to Pay Nearly $3M in Fines for Safety Violations

December 22, 2008

Cintas, North America’s largest uniform supplier, has agreed to pay almost $3 million in penalties to resolve federal occupational safety violations in six cases, including one in which a Tulsa, Okla., employee fell into an industrial dryer and died.

Under the agreement announced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Cintas Inc. is required to certify that it has implemented immediate interim measures to protect employees from hazards in areas of Cintas facilities where garments are washed.

In addition to the Tulsa case, the settlement arises from working conditions in Cintas plants in Mobile, Ala.; Columbus, Ohio; Bedford Park, Ill.; and the Texas cities of San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

The Cincinnati, Ohio-based company is to retain a team of independent experts, including an auditor who will ensure that the interim controls are effective; an expert in hazard analysis and controls who will review Cintas facilities and recommend permanent controls; and additional experts who will review Cintas’ safety and health management systems to recommend improvements to those systems.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a fine of roughly the same size last year against the company, which said at the time that it intended to appeal the sanctions.

Cintas Chief Executive Officer Scott Farmer said the safety of employees has always been a top concern at the company.

“This settlement closes a difficult chapter for our company, yet opens another of optimism and continued progress,” he said. “With OSHA’s help, our goal is not only to achieve world-class safety across every Cintas operation in North America, but also to provide a conduit for improved safety across our entire industry.”

Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Thomas M. Stohler said the agreement will ensure “Cintas employees in federal OSHA states nationwide will receive the protections mandated by OSHA’s standards.

“Cintas also has agreed to a number of other measures that will help create a more safety-conscious corporate culture. This settlement agreement makes such measures binding on the company.”

Tim Schlittner, an aide to Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., said the congressman was disappointed in the settlement.

“It’s a $3 million fine. That’s really a drop in the bucket for a company this large,” Schlittner said. He also said the settlement does not force the company to move fast enough to correct problems.

United Here, a labor organization representing laundry and hospitality workers, also criticized the settlement.

“Cintas has been cited for these problems time and time again, and has acknowledged these problems internally for years,” said Eric Frumin, health and safety director for Unite Here. “That’s why OSHA should be strictly monitoring the company, but there are no plans for follow-up inspections in the agreement.

“It comes as no surprise that the Bush Administration squeezed this in during the final weeks of its tenure.”

In March 2007, Eleazor Torres-Gomez fell into a 300-degree industrial dryer at a Cintas Corp. laundry in Tulsa and died.

Instead of shutting off the machinery as he was supposed to do, the seven-year employee had climbed onto a slow-moving conveyor to clear a jam of wet laundry. He jumped up and down on the clump and fell in.

Twenty minutes later, another employee heard Torres-Gomez’s burned body banging around in the dryer and made the grisly discovery.

The company separately paid $13,650 in penalties in Washington state, where a Cintas worker’s arm was shattered after becoming caught in machinery.

Cintas employs 34,000 people and posted sales of nearly $4 billion in fiscal 2008. It supplies and launders uniforms for restaurant and hotel employees and other workers.

The company’s stock closed at $22.38 Dec. 19, down $3.16 for the day. It has traded in a range from $19.51 to $34.59 over the last year.

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