OSHA yesterday proposed $2.78 million in fines against Cintas Corp. following the death of an employee who was killed when he fell into an operating industrial dryer at a Cintas laundry facility in Tulsa, Okla. The fine is reportedly the largest ever levied against a company in the service industry.

Upon completing its inspection of the March 2007 incident, OSHA found that, “Plant management at the Cintas Tulsa laundry facility ignored safety and health rules that could have prevented the death of this employee,” said OSHA head Edwin G. Foulke Jr.

The employee was killed when he fell into an operating industrial dryer while clearing a jam of wet laundry on a conveyor that carries the laundry from the washer into the dryer, according to OSHA.

The Ohio-based company is the largest uniform supplier in North America, with more than 400 facilities employing more than 34,000 people. The Cintas facility in Tulsa has 160 employees.

OSHA issued 42 willful, instance-by-instance citations. The citations allege violations of the OSHA lockout/tagout standard for the failures to shut down and to lock out power to the equipment before clearing jams, and to train four employees responsible to clear jams that lockout/tagout applies and how to perform the operations.

One repeat citation alleges the failure to protect employees from being struck or pinned by the conveyor. Three serious citations allege the failures to protect employees from falls, to have a qualified person inspect the lockout/tagout procedures and to certify the procedures as required.

In a separate case, OSHA issued five repeat and two serious citations with penalties totaling $117,500 for violations of the lockout/tagout and machine guarding standards found at the Cintas Columbus, Ohio, facility. OSHA also has opened investigations in Arkansas and Alabama. Washington, an OSHA State Plan state, has issued four citations with proposed fines totaling $13,650, alleging violations for similar hazards at the Yakima Cintas facility.

Cintas has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to contest the citations and the proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.