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State fines warehouse companies for safety violations

January 18, 2012|By Marc Lifsher

State regulators have fined a pair of Inland Empire warehouse operating companies more than a quarter of a million dollars for allowing unsafe working conditions at four San Bernardino County distribution centers.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Wednesday said it issued $256,445 in citations for more than 60 violations found during a recent inspection of warehouses in Chino.

Cited were warehouse owner National Distribution Centers and its temporary staffing contractor, Tri State Staffing. The infractions included lack of fall protection for order-pickers working at heights, unstable storage stacking and unguarded machinery.

The state agency, known as Cal-OSHA, noted that National Distribution Centers and Tri State had a "dual-employer relationship" at three of the operations. The situation arises when one employer hires workers and provides them to another employer.

In such a relationship, both employers are potentially liable for violations of state health and safety laws, regulators said. In this case, Tri State provided employees for the National Distribution Centers facilities.

"California law requires all employers to identify and mitigate safety risks in the workplace," said Christine Baker, director of the California Department of Industrial Relaltions, Cal-OSHA's parent agency. "In the warehouse industry, low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable to unsafe working conditions where work is often hidden from public view."

The  inspections responded to complaints from Warehouse Workers United, a group that advocates for better working conditions at Inland Empire logistics centers. State inspectors also were investigating an employee's August 2011 heat illness injury, Cal-OSHA said.

A spokesman at Tri State Staffing's New York headquarters did not respond to a request for comment.

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