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Cintas agrees to pay safety fine of nearly $3 million

SHARE Cintas agrees to pay safety fine of nearly $3 million

OKLAHOMA CITY — 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 employee fell into an industrial dryer and died.

Under the agreement announced Friday 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-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.

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.

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.

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.

The company's stock fell $3.16, or 12.4 percent, to close at $22.38 Friday. It has traded in a range from $19.51 to $34.59 over the last year.