Was Worker's Death Due to Ignorance of California Labor Laws?


San Francisco, CA The very premise of California labor law dictates a number of assumptions: that workers will be paid fairly, that they will be properly trained, and that they ultimately have a safe environment in which to work. The latter tenet appears to have been lacking in 2008 when a young mother met a horrible death at a California printing plant.

Margarita Mojica was 26 at the time of her death two years ago when she became entrapped in a box creasing and cutting machine. She was 17 weeks pregnant at the time with her second child.

California labor code, as with many federal statutes, dictates not only the requirement that an employer provide a safe work environment, but also that a worker has a right to protest if he or she feels at any time in danger while on the job.

It is not clear if the victim was even aware of the potential for disaster while simply doing her job.

According to the October 19th issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland wife and mother of a young daughter was preparing a box creasing and cutting machine to start a job at the facility to replace a cutting die. According to prosecutors she was leaning into the machine when it suddenly activated and closed like a giant clamshell around her.

It is alleged that the owners of Digital Pre-Press International (DPI) of San Francisco were employing a previously owned cutting and creasing machine originally purchased in 2003. It has been reported that workers at some juncture asked to have a safety bar removed from the machine to allow for the handling of thicker cardboard. Investigators say the safety bar was not reinstalled.

While it is unclear if the accident would have been prevented had the safety bar been in place, there are a number of allegations that suggest workers at the facility were not properly schooled in safety protocols according to the tenets of California and labor law.

Regulators cited DPI on two previous occasions, in 1998 and again in 2001, for failing to maintain a worker safety program. The owner of DPI, Sanjay Sakhuja, is reported to have communicated to regulators that he had a training program in place by 2002; and an insurance inspection in 2007 found no problems with the machines at the facility.

However, following the tragic death of Mojica, state regulators under California labor employment law issued no fewer than 14 citations against DPI for not training workers properly. While the plant was reported to have a written safety program, workers told regulators they were never instructed on machine safety.

Sakhuja, along with pressroom manager Alick Yeung, have each been charged with manslaughter and willful violation of California state labor laws. A wrongful death civil suit has since been settled, according to The Chronicle. The value of the settlement was reported to be $6 million.

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