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Tuesday, November 7, 2000

OSHA faults
Xerox for lacking
safety program

Xerox didn't have a proper
program to deal with violence
before the massacre,
the agency says

By Debra Barayuga

Xerox Corp. did not initiate an "effective" program to identify and deal with workplace violence before the November 1999 shooting rampage by copy machine repairman Byran Uyesugi that left seven coworkers dead, the office of Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health has ruled.

In addition, it said Xerox failed to train its supervisors and managers to recognize, reduce or eliminate potential hazards of workplace violence as provided in its safety policies.

Company plans move
to new home

Star-Bulletin staff

Xerox Corp. has signed a multiyear lease on a new location for its warehouse/distribution center.

The company expects to move to 746 Auahi St. within the next four months, said Glenn Sexton, vice president and general manager for Xerox Hawaii.

The company is moving from its warehouse at 1200 N. Nimitz at the request of its employees after the November 1999 shootings that took the lives of seven coworkers. "This is the right thing to do for our employees and our business," Sexton said.

Xerox is leasing the 29,700 square feet of space and adjacent parking from Bishop Estate. It will use the warehouse to store parts and for training.

Those are the findings issued to Xerox last week by the local office that enforces federal and state Occupational Safety Health Administration standards and investigates when a worker suffers serious injury or death in the workplace.

The findings are the result of a nearly 1-month-long investigation stemming from Hawaii's worst multiple slaying. Killed at Xerox's Nimitz Highway distribution warehouse were Ron Kawamae, Melvin Lee, Jason Balatico, Peter Mark, Ron Kataoka, Ford Kanehira and John Sakamoto.

Xerox officials, at a news conference yesterday, "strongly" disagreed with the agency's rulings, calling the citations "unfounded."

"Providing employees with a safe and risk-free work environment has been, and always will be a priority for Xerox," said Glenn Sexton, vice president and general manager for Xerox Hawaii. "The company has demonstrated and evidence supports that it acted responsibly and reasonably."

After reviewing the findings, Xerox will decide whether to appeal, he said. By law, if Xerox fails to contest the citation, the ruling becomes final.

20 days to file appeal

Xerox has 20 days to contest the citations and have its side heard by the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeal Board, said Gilbert Coloma-Agaran, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which issued and mailed the citations Nov. 1.

"The mere fact that we issued the citation does not constitute findings that violations occurred until the process comes to an end," Agaran said.

If Xerox doesn't contest the violations, it has until Nov. 24 to comply or else the agency will take whatever steps necessary to ensure compliance, including fines as provided by statute, he said.

The agency did not assess fines against Xerox for the violations because they were considered the least severe and did not fall under violations they considered "willful" -- the most severe or "serious," Agaran said.

As part of its investigation, the office of Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health interviewed Xerox employees and reviewed court records on the criminal trial, Agaran said. Aside from putting the investigation on hold until the trial was completed, the agency treated the case no differently from others, he said.

In June, a jury convicted Uyesugi, 41, of first-degree murder in the deaths of seven coworkers and attempted second-degree murder for trying to shoot another worker. He is serving Hawaii's harshest sentence possible, life without parole, but has indicated he will appeal his conviction.

Company did its own probe

Xerox conducted its own internal investigation, Sexton said, and concluded, "Xerox Hawaii followed the corporation's well-defined policies and procedures, which in some aspects, exceed legal requirements."

Xerox had a health and safety plan at the time, including policies on workplace violence, physical security and weapons, said Karl Eckweiler, Xerox's senior counsel for environment, health and safety.

Furthermore, supervisors, managers and employees were informed of and had access to its policies and programs through its policy manuals and the company's internal Web page.

Managers undergo training to ensure they understand their responsibilities. But whether they receive it depends on the times employees are available and when training is provided, Eckweiler said. And while training is available, it doesn't mean it was implemented at all its locations, he said.

Xerox subsequently provided a four-hour training program on workplace violence for its Hawaii employees and doesn't anticipate doing anything more, he said.

"We believe that our current program is effective and compliant with the law and the only reason we would modify them would be to maintain or achieve benchmark status in the industry, not necessarily because we feel there's anything lacking in our current policies."

The shooting was a criminal act that could not have been predicted, he said. "I don't believe personally that in this situation we could have done anything better or done anything different that would have prevented this particular incident."

By the end of yesterday, at least one lawsuit against Uyesugi and Xerox was filed -- the first related to the shootings.

Attorney Michael Green filed the suit on behalf of Randall Shin, who saw his coworkers killed. Shin no longer works for Xerox.

Green said the public can expect to see a number of suits as a result of OSHA's findings, "I guarantee you."

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