The VPP motto could be “location, location, location.” The program seeks to honor model job sites, even if the employer’s safety record elsewhere is poor.
Consider VPP member Bimbo Bakeries, one of the world’s biggest bread makers and a notorious name in workplace safety.
In recent years, nine workers at Bimbo’s California bakeries suffered amputations, mostly of fingers but in at least one case an arm, the Los Angeles Times reported last September. A special Cal/OSHA high hazard unit inspected several Bimbo plants in 2010, issuing seven “willful” citations and seeking nearly $490,000 in penalties for such violations as failing to mount guards on dangerous machines. Bimbo is appealing; a company spokesman declined comment.
Bimbo’s safety problems extend beyond California. Last month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited
a Bimbo bakery in San Antonio, Texas, for 10 serious violations, including exposing workers to the risk of amputations.
Yet Bimbo’s Placentia plant in Orange County, which makes Thomas’ English Muffins, is in the VPP. Bimbo inherited the status in 2009 when it bought the bakery from a long-time member.
Then there’s Kinder Morgan, held chiefly responsible for one of California’s worst job-related disasters in recent years — a 2004 gas pipeline explosion in the East Bay community of Walnut Creek that killed five workers and badly injured four others. Safety investigators put most of the blame on Kinder Morgan, which owned the pipeline. It paid out millions of dollars in criminal and civil fines.
Yet a few years later and about 20 miles from the scene of the Walnut Creek tragedy, Kinder Morgan’s fuel terminal in Benicia joined the VPP.
The company declined interview requests, but a spokeswoman said in an email that it is “proud” to be a member.
“Having this status is additional validation that Kinder Morgan’s health and safety program meets OSHA standards and that our employees can demonstrate their knowledge of safe working procedures,” the email said.