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Bimbo Bakeries fined $230,000 for worker safety violations

April 1, 2010 | 10:21 pm

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health on Thursday fined Bimbo Bakeries $230,000, including more than $120,000 in rarely issued “willful” citations given to companies that intentionally disregard safety regulations.

The action comes after a Times investigation last fall highlighted cases at Bimbo Bakeries in which five employees lost fingers or parts of fingers, and one lost an arm, in separate bakery accidents. Many of the fines in those cases were later dismissed or reduced.

In October, the Cal/OSHA high-hazard unit visited Bimbo plants in Escondido, Montebello and South San Francisco and found equipment that lacked proper guarding, designed to prevent an employee from suffering cuts or potential amputation.

“We believe there are systemic problems which have resulted in numerous employees suffering amputations due to unguarded equipment,” Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh said in a statement.

Bimbo officials could not be reached for comment. The firm can appeal the fine.

The action comes as Cal/OSHA and the appeals board that reviews the citations it issues are under pressure from lawmakers and federal officials over its operations. Cal/OSHA is charged with protecting safety in California’s workplaces.

In a hearing last month, the head of the state Senate’s Labor Committee accused the head of the Cal/OSHA workplace safety board of being biased toward employers.

One issue is that the Cal/OSHA appeals board has repeatedly reduced fines or dismissed cases over the objections of Cal/OSHA investigators,

In a case in which a Bimbo worker lost her arm in a bread machine in 2003, Cal/OSHA fined Bimbo $21,000. An administrative law judge working for the appeals board later dismissed the case. The full appeals board is set to reconsider that case this year.

A year later, an employee at the Montebello plant reached into a machine that lacked a guard and lost part of a finger. Cal/OSHA fined Bimbo $22,500, but an appeals board judge reduced that fine to $5,000. Cal/OSHA appealed that case to the entire appeals board; it has not yet been heard.

-- Jessica Garrison