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Cal/OSHA fines aviation company in death of LAX baggage worker

Los Angeles International AirportVirgin Group, Ltd.Occupational Safety and Health Administration
State fines aviation company $77,250 in death of LAX baggage worker
Menzies Aviation cited for five safety violations after a worker fell off a baggage tug and died
Investigators found numerous safety lapses related to the use of seat belts by Menzies Aviation employees

State officials fined an aviation services company $77,250 on Wednesday for five safety violations related to the death of a baggage worker in February at Los Angeles International Airport.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health leveled the penalty against Menzies Aviation, whose employee, Cesar Valenzuela, 51, died after being thrown from a baggage tug that did not have a functional seat belt.

Cal/OSHA investigators said seatbelts were required for the vehicle and that Menzies' safety policies related to baggage tugs did not require and even discouraged the use of restraints in certain areas of LAX.

"This fatality could have been prevented with a well thought out and implemented safety plan as is required for all worksites in California," said Christine Baker, director of the state Department of Industrial Relations.

Menzies and other aviation service companies contract with airlines to provide cabin cleaners, security personnel, custodians, wheel-chair assistants and baggage handlers.

The citations prompted union officials and service company employees to renew their calls for improvements to working conditions at LAX, the nation's third-busiest airport.

"Workers punching in at the start of a shift ought to be able to finish the day without risking their health or losing their life," said David Huerta, president of SEIU United Service Workers West, which represents 2,500 airline employees at LAX.

Valenzuela, a ramp agent, was driving a baggage tug on the morning of Feb. 21 to haul cargo around the airport.

Investigators said he lost control of the vehicle, struck a curb and was thrown out. He was later found near the Virgin Australia terminal with his head pinned beneath one of the tug's rear tires.

According to Cal/OSHA, a portion of the tug's seatbelt was missing, although state safety regulations require restraint systems on such vehicles. The agency also found that Menzies' inspection procedures were inadequate.

During their investigation, Cal/OSHA officials said they frequently spotted company employees driving baggage tugs without wearing seat belts or other restraints.

They added that Menzies' written safety program required the use of seat belts only on marked roads and vehicle service roads, but not around terminal gates or aircraft parking areas.

The state further cited Menzies for inaccurately reporting the fatal accident to Cal/OSHA as a heart attack. Companies are required to accurately report work-related deaths within eight hours of their occurrence.

Menzies officials said they disagreed with Cal/OSHA's findings and were disappointed that investigators apparently did not consider the company's 147-page response. They added that they would appeal the citations.

"Menzies is confident that, through the appellate process, our company's ongoing commitment to workplace safety will be made evident and that the citations will be overturned or revised," company officials said in a prepared statement.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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