The California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) cited Pomona College for five violations of workplace safety and health laws and regulations and levied $1,730 of fines against the college Nov. 14. This decision marks the end of a seven-month investigation that began after dining hall workers filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA in April.
Director of Facilities and Campus Services Bob Robinson said that the results of the investigation showed that the college was not guilty of any serious violations.
“When the complaint or request for information was filed with OSHA, we were comfortable with it, because we want someone to come in and give us a review and make sure that we are doing things properly, meaning that we’re not creating an unsafe work environment,” Robinson said. “I think that was pretty clear as a result of the inspection. The workplace itself is not an unsafe environment.”
The violations themselves were mostly for recordkeeping issues such as improperly filing occupational injury and illness forms, but one was for a blocked electrical panel in the Oldenborg dining hall. In an e-mail to all Pomona students about the result, Vice President and Treasurer of Pomona College Karen Sisson wrote that none of the violations were what Cal/OSHA defines as “serious” violations.
Frary Dining Hall chef Rolando Araiza, however, said that the fact that Cal/OSHA was brought in at all indicates the seriousness of safety issues for workers.
“We have to remember, even to have an OSHA investigation is serious,” Araiza said. “If you look at other places, if there was ever an incident where OSHA would come to a workplace, you’d find that it doesn’t typically happen a lot. So for OSHA to be coming to Pomona in the first place, it is a big issue.”
Araiza was referring to bi-weekly meetings with Sodexo managers that covered various workplace and human resources topics such as kitchen safety and sexual harassment.
Robinson said that in response to the investigation, the college has already begun trying to enhance employee training to prevent injuries.
“We’ve taken steps to do more ergonomic and back injury-prevention training, which we did in August,” Robinson said.
He added that in August, not all workers were able to go through training, but they will have by Dec. 17, in compliance with OSHA.
However, Araiza said that after Pomona ended its contract with dining services management company Sodexo two years ago, training for dining hall staff has been less frequent.
“I’ve been working at Pomona College for seven years, and while working under Sodexo management, we were always training, monthly and annually,” Araiza said.
The workplace safety issues addressed by the Cal/OSHA investigation are also at the heart of the dining hall staff unionization effort, said Christian Torres, a former Pomona chef and member of Workers for Justice, the pro-union group of Pomona dining hall workers.
“That is why I joined the fight [to unionize] when I was working, because I was working for a safe environment for myself,” Torres said.
Robinson said in the event of a workplace accident, the college’s most important task is to ensure the safety and well-being of its employees.
“First and foremost, getting medical attention is our number-one priority,” he said. “So, if someone’s injured, proper procedure is you’re supposed to fill out all this paperwork before you get any medical attention. Personally, that’s important but I want to get the individuals to proper medical care first.”