Cal-OSHA fines bakery where workers lost limbs

California occupational-safety officials have issued one of their agency’s largest group of fines ever — $230,535 — to Bimbo Bakeries for failing to fix safety violations that led to amputation of workers’ limbs.

Officials said that 20 alleged violations were documented at three factories belonging to the company, which produces brands that include Oroweat and Entenmann’s goods.

The factories are in South San Francisco, Escondido and Montebello.

On Feb. 13, a separate investigation was opened at an Elk Grove Bimbo factory where a worker lost the tip of a finger and some bone, according to Dean Fryer, spokesman for the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Our primary concern is for the safety of employees at these job sites and the steps that Bimbo needs to take to ensure a safe work environment,” Cal-OSHA chief Len Welsh said in a statement Thursday. “We believe there are systemic problems which have resulted in numerous employees suffering amputations due to unguarded equipment.”

Fryer said this week’s citations are the largest issued against a one company for alleged “willful” continuing violations that could to lead to physical harm or death. Fryer said Cal-OSHA has documented six amputations of workers’ limbs or part of a limb at Bimbo plants.

One of the factories fined this week is in South San Francisco, where Bimbo employee Rosa Frias lost an arm in an industrial accident in 2003.

Bimbo was issued $21,750 in fines after an inspection found the company at fault. But after a nearly four-year appeals process, Cal-OSHA Appeals Board Judge Barbara Steinhardt-Carter reduced the fine to zero because she said there was no evidence that a Cal-OSHA inspector had presented credentials to enter the Bimbo bakery after Frias’ arm was severed. The inspector was retired by the time the appeals hearing was held and did not testify.

Cal-OSHA officials argued that the inspector had identified himself and that factory employees had allowed him into the plant. Inspectors have asked for the case to be reconsidered. “The documentation should have been ample enough” to uphold the fines, Fryer said.

The Cal-OSHA appeals process came under fire recently during legislative hearings at the state Capitol. Last summer, a third of Cal-OSHA’s inspectors signed a letter saying that appeals board policies had “sabotaged” their job of protecting California workers.

Numerous fines related to worker injury and death, including farmworkers’ deaths from heat exposure, had been dramatically reduced.

Bimbo has 15 days to appeal this week’s citations or accept and pay the penalties. Company spokesman David Margulies in Dallas had no comment on the alleged violations Cal-OSHA found.

The South San Francisco factory was issued a citation of $76,750 for alleged improper use of electrical cords and failure to prevent accidental movement of equipment during cleaning and maintenance. Frias’ arm was severed by equipment during maintenance.

The Escondido factory was issued $123,535 in citations for having no injury prevention plan, no emergency eye wash or shower in a battery changing area and unguarded pulleys, sprockets and shafts on equipment. The Montebello factory was issued $30,250 in citations for having no emergency eye wash and unguarded equipment.

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