NO OSHA CITATION FOR CNMI GARMENT FACTORY FOOD POISONING INCIDENT

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By Haidee V. Eugenia

SAIPAN, CNMI (April 9, 1999 - Marianas Variety)---the U.S. Labor’s Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) yesterday cleared L&T Garment Manufacturing Corporation of any citation related to last month’s food poisoning incident which downed 1,167 Chinese workers.

However, OSHA cautioned L&T of other citations if it fails to immediately comply with the five program recommendations set forth by OSHA.

The disclosure came after the completion of the initial phase of OSHA’s investigation, and after the said federal agency issued an official letter to L&T documenting a number of recommendations designed to prevent recurrence of a similar incident.

Robert Curtis, director of OSHA’s Program Support Division, yesterday told local government officials and reporters that while L&T will not be meted with fines stemming from the recent massive food poisoning incident, the garment firm will still be under close scrutiny until its full compliance with five recommended programs.

"At this point, there is no citation from OSHA regarding this specific incident (at L&T) . . .But what we want to happen is for these programs to be implemented. If not, then we will resort to citations," Curtis said during a joint press conference called by OSHA, the CNMI Department of Public Health and the Division of Environment Quality.

Curtis said it will be more helpful for L&T management to cough out resources to institute corrective programs to address occupational safety concerns rather than use the money to pay for any citation fee.

"We prefer to have Tan Holding to use their time and resources to ensure the safety of its workers than have them pay the fine," said Curtis.

In a letter addressed to Willie Tan, president of Tan Holdings, which is the mother company of L&T, OSHA told the garment company to expand its health programs to minimize the risks of future outbreaks.

These are the Food Procurement Program, Food Storage and Preparation Program, Water Quality Program, Medical Management Program, Medical Management Program and Employee Hazard Identification Program.

"All these programs will prevent future food poisoning incidents from happening," Curtis added.

Connie Hunt, OSHA Saipan director, said L&T has confirmed in writing that it will adhere to the specific areas that need improvement as identified by OSHA. She said failure of the said garment firm to act on its promised compliance will guarantee absolute citation.

"We got a commitment from the company and we will continue to watch them," said Hunt, adding that OSHA’s investigation is still ongoing as the exact root of the food poisoning incidents is yet to be ascertained.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Joseph Kevein Villagomez said L&T has been doing well in addressing the 22 concerns earlier raised by DPH to prevent the recurrence of the food poisoning incident.

"L&T is doing progress. They have addressed most of the concerns we raised," said Villagomez.

In a separate interview, Lawyer Steven Pixley, chief legal counsel of Tan Holdings, said L&T is more than willing to adopt the OSHA recommended programs.

"L&T is willing to cooperate with OSHA and the health department for the safety of its workers," added Pixley.

Curtis, together with his associate Dr. Allan Heins, arrived in Saipan on Monday to participate in the investigation of the food poisoning incident.

The arrival of the two Salt Lake, Utah-based officials of OSHA’s Health Response Team was precipitated by the request of OSHA Region IX director Frank Strasheim.

The two officials left yesterday afternoon shortly after the press conference held at DPH.

The food poisoning incident at L&T happened on March 24 where 1,167 workers who ate Peking duck, rice and cabbage at the factory cafeteria suffered vomiting, stomach cramps, and nausea.

OSHA described the said food poisoning as the biggest occupational health-related incident in the U.S. in the last 27 years.

CNMI FOOD POISONING HOSPITAL BILL TOO HIGH: LEGAL COUNSEL

By Jojo Dago

SAIPAN, CNMI (April 6, 1999 - Mariana Variety)---The Commonwealth Health Center may be billing the L&T Group of Companies too high in connection with the mass food poisoning incident that downed over 1,000 garment workers late last month, the firm’s legal counsel yesterday said.

Steven P. Pixley said the bill, totaling $353,000, is astronomical, adding that it leaves the impression CHC is jumping at the opportunity to twist the firm’s arm and earn more money in light of its current financial woes.

Pixley said he will seek an audience with Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez to try and figure out why the bill is not itemized.

"We just got the bill. We plan to discuss this with CHC. We are asking for some verification. We expect some itemization, some documentation," Pixley said in an interview.

He said he was "quite shocked" at the bill’s amount, which he described as "extremely inflated."

The letter, dated March 31, was received April 23.

"This letter demands the payment of $352,800 to the Department of Public Health within 15 days."

"This letter is not supported by any itemized expenses. The amount demanded seems extremely inflated given the fact that this outbreak lasted substantially less than 24 hours," said Pixley, in a letter sent to the Variety.

The Variety repeatedly tried but failed to reach Villagomez, who was busy on official meetings.

A top CHC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained the bill was huge because the incident happened on a holiday and the CHC staff worked overtime.

The official added that L&T would not have incurred the expenses had it earlier looked into its kitchen facility for possible signs of health hazards.

The food poisoning incident, described by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration as the biggest occupational health-related incident in 27 years, downed over 1,000 garment workers employed by L&T.

It happened last March 24, Covenant Day.

The workers started feeling ill hours after eating rice, Peking duck vegetables and soup at the L&T cafeteria in Lower Base. They soon stated trickling into CHC, vomiting, dizzy and having stomach cramps.

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