Page One

Meals must be strapped
in vehicles from now on

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Saturday July 06, 2002

Rule is in response to Cal OSHA citations given to city food program 


Berkeley came to an agreement with the California Occupational Safety & Health Administration Wednesday on two safety violations in its Meals on Wheels program for seniors. 

Cal OSHA issued two citations June 20, one for failing to properly secure food containers in vehicles and another for keeping inadequate records on employee safety training. 

Under the July 3 agreement, the city placed straps in the vehicles to hold down containers and Cal OSHA withdrew the corresponding citation, replacing it with a less punitive “notice.” 

Cal OSHA kept the record-keeping citation in place, fining the city $185.  

Fred Medrano, director of health and human services, said that record keeping was not the only problem – the program did not have a safety program to track. 

Now, he said, the city has initiated a training program and agreed to improve record-keeping. 

“I think the staff have taken the initiative to address the problem and we agreed with the Cal OSHA folks in terms of the remedy,” he said. 

Cal OSHA spokesperson Susan Gard praised the city for its efforts. 

“We had a very cordial relationship,” she said. “The employer was quite cooperative.” 

One Meals on Wheels employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said five drivers were injured in recent months, before the straps were put in place. But Medrano said he knew of only one worker’s compensation claim. He said the city, as a precaution, has placed a limit on the amount of weight the driver in question can lift. 

Medrano said there was never any danger of the food containers flying toward the drivers. He said the drivers’ main concern was that they would have to reach back to steady the shifting containers and could be injured in the process. 

Still, the employee said the straps do not solve the problem, arguing that Meals on Wheels should invest in vehicles specifically designed to store food in the rear. 

The program supplies over 240 seniors with meals it deliveres to their homes. The city asks participants to make a small donation, if they can afford it, to help subsidize the program. 

The employee who raised concerns about safety also said the city needs to make temporary Meals on Wheels positions permanent to reduce turnover and ensure stability. Medrano said the city is working to move the program’s three drivers, currently temporary employees, to career status. 

He said the city is also working to reduce its reliance on volunteer drivers, who supplement the city employees. 

“When you rely on volunteers, sometimes they don’t feel as obligated to be on the job as consistently,” Medrano said. “You can’t build a program around that.”