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TMCNet:  State to investigate how La Puente woman was killed by robot arm in Industry bakery

[July 23, 2009]

State to investigate how La Puente woman was killed by robot arm in Industry bakery

INDUSTRY, Jul 23, 2009 (San Gabriel Valley Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Officials from the state's workplace safety agency announced Wednesday they will investigate the death of La Puente woman killed by a robotic box sorter at an Industry bakery.

The state's division of Occupational Safety and Health received a complaint following Tuesday's death and "is definitely investigating the fatality at Golden State Foods," Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said.

Killed was Ana Maria Vital, 40, of La Puente.

At Vital's house in La Puente, a man who identified himself as her son said the family had no comment on her death.

Mark Wetterau, chairman and CEO of Golden State Foods said in a statement Tuesday that the company would help the state find out what happened. The bakery is a major supplier of food to McDonald's.

"We continue to work closely with the authorities as well as Cal/OSHA as they investigate the circumstances of this tragedy," Wetterau said.

According to a report filled out by the safety supervisor of Golden State Foods, "(Vital) was removing a jammed package when she was crushed between a conveyor belt and a robot arm," Monterozza said.

Monterroza said information provided by companies is often inaccurate or incomplete, and Cal/OSHA will carry out an independent investigation into Vital's death.

Cal/OSHA workers will determine whether the company was operating out of compliance with health and safety regulations. Investigations can last up to six months but are usually finished in four, officials said.

If violations exist, citations will be issued, fines could be levied, corrective measures will be implemented, and a company could be temporarily shut down.

Sheriff's homicide detectives first got the call regarding the death at 7:50 a.m., deputies said.

Detectives routinely are called out to industrial deaths, said Sheriff's Lt. Duane Harris.

Vital was pronounced dead at 8:22 a.m.

"It was simply an accident," Harris said.

Headquartered in Irvine, Golden State Foods has been the area's primary supplier to McDonald's since 1967.

The bakery at 640 S. Sixth Ave. in Industry has not been cited by Cal/OSHA in the past five years, and no fatalities have been recorded during that time frame, Monterroza said.

Statewide, officials report about 400-to-500 work-related deaths each year.

In 2005, the most recent year with a statistical breakdown of deaths, there were 429 work-related fatalities across the state. Of those, only 24 were women.

Contact with objects and machinery killed 76 people that year, coming in as the third-leading cause of death behind auto accidents and fights. (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477 To see more of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, West Covina, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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