Staffing Firm Found Liable in Carbon Monoxide Exposure Incident

Sacramento—Cal/OSHA has announced that citations issued to staffing firm Barrett Business Services, following a September 28, 2011 carbon monoxide warehouse incident in Anaheim that sent eight temporary workers to the hospital, were upheld by the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB).

For months prior to the incident, the workers contracted by Barrett Business Services to package fruits and nuts in L&L Foods’ warehouse in Anaheim had complained to their supervisor that they were experiencing headaches, nausea and other health issues caused by forklifts operating in an enclosed area with poor ventilation. Neither the Ontario-based staffing company nor host employer L&L Foods took any action.

On the day of the incident, a forklift driver became ill and was hospitalized for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, while seven other workers were taken to the hospital for treatment. Cal/OSHA tested the facility and found the workers were exposed to CO levels of 250-350 parts per million, which exceeded the permissible exposure level of 200 parts per million.

Following an investigation, Cal/OSHA issued citations in 2012 to both Barrett Business Services and L&L Foods for numerous safety violations, including willful violations for failing to take action on known hazards.

Both employers filed appeals protesting the citations; L&L Foods settled its case on April 22, 2013. Following a lengthy appeal process that started in 2013, an administrative law judge last April denied Barrett’s appeal and imposed total civil penalties of $80,050.

The citations issued included three violations for one general, one willful general and one willful serious category violation. A willful violation is cited when the employer is aware of the law and violates it nevertheless, or when the employer is aware of the hazardous condition and takes no reasonable steps to address it.

A serious violation is cited when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation. A general violation is cited when an accident or occupational illness resulting from violation of a standard would probably not cause death or serious physical harm, but would have a direct or immediate relationship to the safety or health of employees.