PHILADELPHIA — The Occupational Health and Safety Administration Tuesday proposed fining a Pepperidge Farm Inc. plant nearly $1.4 million for exposing workers to dangerous working conditions.
The $1.38-million fine will be imposed if Pepperidge Farm does not contest it within 15 working days, said Jack Hord, spokesman in Philadelphia for OSHA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Norwalk, Conn.-based company said the fine was "arbitrarily assigned and totally unjustified." It said it would contest the alleged violations.
There have been eight proposed fines higher than the Pepperidge Farm proposal, according to Frank Kane, OSHA spokesman in Washington.
Fifty workers at Pepperidge Farm's plant in Downingtown, Pa., developed carpal tunnel syndrome, an inflammation of the sheaths around nerve endings, in the fingers, wrists and shoulders, according to Hord. Twenty-six of them required surgery, Hord said.
The injuries resulted from repeatedly putting together sandwich cookies, Hord said.
OSHA's six-month investigation recorded 389 willful violations of record-keeping rules and safety standards at the 1,500-worker plant, according to a news release.
There were gaps and inaccuracies in illness records and although the plant had a manual on how to prevent the injuries, officials did not implement the recommendations, according to OSHA.
"Management was clearly aware of the need to address ergonomic hazards at this Pepperidge Farm plant, yet chose to ignore its own experts and employees while more and more employees suffered crippling injury," said John A. Pendergrass, assistant Secretary of Labor and OSHA head.
"The results were predictable: An increase in injuries, repeated trauma for previously injured employees, high turnover at the plant and a call to OSHA for help," Pendergrass said.
In disputing the proposed fine, Pepperidge Farm said the disorder can occur in all occupations that involve repetitive movements.
"We have been singled out and chastised for a phenomenon common to myriad jobs--both blue-collar and white-collar--requiring repetitive movement of hands and arms," Richard A. Shea, Pepperidge Farm president, said in a prepared statement.