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Grocery chain faces fines in series of worker injuries

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed $188,200 in fines against supermarket chain Wegmans Food Markets Inc. because of alleged repeated workplace safety violations and two major injuries suffered by employees earlier this year, the agency announced.

In March, a sanitation crew member lost his fingertip when it caught in the pinch point of an operating conveyor that he was cleaning, according to the agency, which concluded that the Gates, New York-based company failed to turn off and lock out the conveyor's power source and properly train employees how to do so.

A month later, a mechanic sustained a first-degree burn on his wrist when steam released while he attempted to repair a valve, as the company failed to develop a procedure to lock out the valve supplying steam to the pipe, according to the agency.

A recent inspection by the agency's Buffalo, New York, office identified hazardous conditions similar to those cited by the agency during a 2011 inspection of one of the company's Rochester, New York, stores, leading OSHA to cite Wegmans for three repeated violations and propose $175,000 in related fines. OSHA also cited the company for inadequate hand and face protection for the employees who worked on the steam valve, with fines amounting to $13,200 for the two serious violations.

“If Wegmans had used proper safeguards, these preventable injuries would not have happened,” said Michael Scime, OSHA's area director in Buffalo in Thursday's statement. “The company must take corrective action at all stores to ensure that hazards such as these and the injuries that result are eliminated.”

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with Mr. Scime or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

“We care about our employees and want them to be safe. Even one injury to an employee is too many for us. Thankfully, our bakeshop employee did not lose his fingertip and both employees fully recovered from their injuries and were able to return to work,” Jo Natale, spokesman for Wegmans said in a statement, “We work hard to maintain a safe workplace everywhere. The current rate of workplace accidents at Wegmans is the lowest in our history”.