WASHINGTON — With the recent death of a Cintas laundry worker still fresh in mind, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.; and others have introduced legislation aimed at cutting down on the number of American workers killed or injured on the job each year.
Emanuel Torres-Gomez, the oldest son of Eleazar Torres-Gomez, came to Capitol Hill last week to lend his family’s support to the Protecting America’s Workers Act. The elder Torres-Gomez, 46, was killed March 6 in Cintas’ Tulsa, Okla., plant when he became trapped in an industrial dryer.
There are claims that a conveyor dragged him into the dryer, and Emanuel Torres-Gomez blames Cintas for not having placed guards on the conveyor in Tulsa. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Cintas in 2005 for not placing guards on a conveyor at a New York laundry, he added. “If the company had added the guards, which it knew was required by OSHA, my father would be alive today,” Torres-Gomez asserted during a press conference.
Two weeks after the incident, Cintas President/CEO Scott Farmer told the company’s employee-partners that the victim “climbed on top of a moving conveyor to dislodge a jam, contrary to all safety training and procedures, and fell into a dryer.” While Eleazar Torres-Gomez’s death was tragic, the incident is unrelated to concerns being addressed by this legislation, the company says.
“If employers are held more accountable, like what’s being proposed here, then perhaps employers will make working conditions better and safer,” Emanuel Torres-Gomez says.
The Protecting America’s Workers Act would boost workplace safety by strengthening and expanding the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Specifically, the legislation would:
• Apply federal safety standards to workers who are not currently covered, including federal, state and local employees, and some private-sector employees;
• Increase penalties against employers for repeated and willful violations of the law, including making felony charges available when an employer’s repeated and willful violation of the law leads to a worker’s death or serious injury;
• Protect workers who blow the whistle on unsafe workplace conditions;
• Enhance the public’s right to know about safety violations; and
• Make clear that employers must provide the necessary safety equipment to their workers, such as goggles, gloves, respirators or other personal protective equipment.
“Since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, thousands of lives have been saved. But too many people still die at work and millions more become injured or sick,” says Woolsey, chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. “This administration has a dismal record on health and safety. OSHA has fallen down on its job and turned its back on workers. With this bill, we can make OSHA mean something again and can further the most important goal: to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all workers.”