Advertisement

For These Five Workers, Hazards Proved to Be Fatal : Accidents: Broken machines and poor training are blamed. But employers tell a different story.

SWEAT AND BLOOD. Latinos in the factories. First in a series

September 05, 1993|DAVID FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While work-related fatalities throughout California and the United States have declined dramatically over the last century, death on the job has remained a fact of life.

Nearly 10,000 workers were killed in 1991, according to the most recent figures available from the National Safety Council. Factory workers accounted for an estimated 800 of those deaths.

In Los Angeles County in 1992, at least 10 people died in manufacturing-related accidents, including eight Latinos, coroner's records show. In Orange County, three of four factory workers killed last year were Latinos.

Most died anonymously and grotesquely.

*

As Guadalupe R. Lopez was pulled by his left arm into the giant rolling machine on the morning of March 5, 1992, there was nothing he could do. His co-workers at the Kirkhill Rubber Co. in Brea could only run for help as the machine slowly compressed his chest.

When supervisors arrived, "They told us to stop everything and not to move anything around," worker Armando Rodriguez Munoz told Cal/OSHA. "Maybe . . . just maybe, the man could have been saved. But, they said to stop everything."

Trapped in the rolling machine, Lopez, 55, was unconscious but alive for "four or five" minutes before he died, Munoz said.

A nearby emergency switch, designed to shut down the machine immediately, was inoperable, Cal/OSHA found, and an attorney representing Lopez's family alleges that it had been broken for years.

Kirkhill Rubber makes aerospace rubber products at its Brea plant and employs more than 600 people there. Company records show that in a 16-month period ending April 1, 1992, at least 135 workers--about 80% of them Spanish surnamed--reported injuries that included bone fractures, burns, bruises and sprains.

Following Lopez's death, Cal/OSHA accused the company of having willfully violated safety standards and assessed $40,000 in fines. Kirkhill officials appealed the fine. In March, the violations were downgraded to a rating of "serious" but not willful--and the fine was reduced to $4,000.

Kirkhill's attorney, Herbert A. Moss, declined The Times' request to tour the plant, saying, "I'll convey it (to company officials), and then we'll all have a good laugh."

*

On Sept. 23, 1992, Maria Esther Aranda, 34, was walking past a menu laminating machine at the Paper Coating Co. in City Terrace when the machine exploded, dousing her with hot oil and engulfing her in flames.

When paramedics arrived, they found Aranda, a $4.50-an-hour worker, standing on the curb outside the factory, burned over most of her body. She was rushed to Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center.

Doctors attempted repeated skin grafts. They also amputated fingers from both of her hands to stop the spread of infection. Their efforts ultimately proved fruitless.

Aranda died on Oct. 27.

Cal/OSHA fined the company $1,560 for operating five laminating presses that did not have required approval from Underwriters Laboratories. In addition, an electrical contracting company was fined $2,000 for moving and improperly rewiring the laminating machine a day before the accident and doing the work without Paper Coating's approval. The faulty electrical work was largely blamed for the explosion.

Paper Coating's owner, Al Levine, declined to discuss the accident.

*

Felipe Salas Crescencio, 29, was eager to work as a machine operator at Carson Industries in La Verne, which makes plastic boxes for underground utilities. When Crescencio was asked on his application which shift he preferred, the grade-school dropout marked every box.

Shortly after midnight on Aug. 21, 1992, having been on the job a little more than a month, Crescencio leaned into a hydraulic machine to wipe away some excess plastic. A co-worker heard a "crushing" sound, turned around and saw Crescencio's head trapped in the machine.

He died 40 minutes later at Pomona Valley Community Hospital.

Cal/OSHA concluded that Crescencio was not qualified to operate the machine, and that the machine lacked proper guards to protect workers. The company was fined $27,000.

Carson Industries subsequently outfitted the machine with screens and posted large warning signs in both English and Spanish to prevent similar accidents. The company has appealed the fine, arguing that Crescencio's death was "entirely due to employee misconduct."

*

It was shortly after 5 p.m. on June 29, 1992, when Joaquin Guerrero, 42, stepped under a hydraulic press at the Pro Plasti Form company in Gardena. Suddenly, electricity in the neighborhood went out, tripping the press and sending it crashing down on him.

Co-workers had to use a forklift to free him, but by then it was too late. Guerrero, a Salvadoran who had worked at Pro Plasti for 15 years, would be declared dead minutes later at Gardena Memorial Hospital, his chest crushed.

"I loved the guy," said factory operator Chris Raab. "That's the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|