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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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News Release

OSHA News Release: [07/29/2011]
Contact Name: Ted Fitzgerald
Phone Number: (617) 565-2074
Release Number: 11-1114-NEW or 11-0268-BOS

US Labor Department's OSHA cites 3 Brooklyn, NY, tortilla manufacturers for safety and health hazards following worker fatality

OSHA safety and health resources available for Spanish-speaking workers and employers

NEW YORK — The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited three Brooklyn tortilla manufacturers for a total of 34 alleged violations of workplace safety and health standards following inspections conducted in the wake of the January death of a worker at Tortilleria Chinantla Inc., located at 975 Grand St.

Juan Batten, a 22-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, died when he became caught in the auger of a mixing machine. OSHA's inspection found that the mixer was not guarded to prevent employees from coming into contact with its points of operation.

"Proper and effective machine guarding would have eliminated this hazard and prevented this young worker's death," said Kay Gee, OSHA's area director for Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. "This was a clearly recognizable hazard that should have been addressed."

In addition to other machine guarding hazards identified during the inspection, Tortilleria Chinantla lacked a hazardous energy control or "lockout/tagout program to prevent the unintended startup of machinery, a chemical hazard communication program and the required training for operators of powered industrial trucks. The company also failed to record the worker's death on its illness and injury log. As a result, Tortilleria Chinantla was cited for one willful, six serious and one other-than-serious violation, carrying a total of $62,400 in proposed fines.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Separately, and in response to reports of possible hazards, OSHA also inspected two other tortilla manufacturers: Buena Vista Tortillas Corp., located at 219 Johnson Ave., and La Tortilleria Mexicana Los Tres Hermanos Corp., located at 271 Star St. Buena Vista Tortillas was cited for 13 serious and one other-than-serious violation with $39,000 in proposed fines for machine guarding, electrical, lockout/tagout, fire extinguisher, exit route, hazard communication and fall hazards. La Tortilleria Mexicana Los Tres Hermanos was cited for 12 serious violations with $33,600 in proposed fines for machine guarding, electrical, exit route, powered industrial truck and formaldehyde hazards.

"What is particularly disturbing is that we found a number of similar hazards at all three facilities," said Gee. "While no fatalities have occurred at the other locations, I call upon these and other similar employers to review their workplaces to identify and eliminate hazards."

"Safeguarding workers against occupational injuries and illnesses depends in great part on ensuring that workers know and understand the hazards and safeguards associated with their jobs. That is especially important in workplaces where English may not be the employees' primary language," said Diana Cortez, OSHA's regional diverse workforce coordinator. "Employers must provide information and training in a way their workers will understand. OSHA has numerous resources available for Spanish-speaking workers and employers. I encourage both groups to seek out this vital information online or in person."

Detailed safety and health information including publications, fact sheets, standards and interactive eTools are available in Spanish at http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/spanish/. OSHA also can provide safety and health information in other languages. Workers and employers in the greater New York City area may contact the compliance assistance specialist in the appropriate OSHA area office. A searchable list of compliance assistance specialists by location is available at http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/cas_directory_auto.html.

"One means by which employers can enhance safety and health in their workplaces is by establishing and maintaining an illness and injury prevention program, in which employers and employees work together to identify and eliminate hazards before they cause harm," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York.

Each employer has 15 business days from receipt of citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The inspection was conducted by OSHA's Manhattan Area Office; telephone 212-620-3200. To report workplace incidents, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, call the agency's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.