Firm trains employers about safety

April 22, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer, Dateline: Heber

Ruiz & Associates-Safety Assessments of Heber can write and implement a comprehensive safety-on-the-job awareness program to help employers in the Imperial Valley avoid third-party lawsuits and compensation claims from workers injured in an accident.

Fernando Ruiz of El Centro said the firm he runs with his wife, Conchi, and partner, Gordon Bigger of Imperial, is unique in the Valley because it can adapt to the vast number of industries here.

Bigger said the firm counts as clients school districts, convenience stores, geothermal plants, municipalities such as the city of Calexico, farm labor contractors and feedlots.

"We offer training in English, Spanish and American Sign Language," Ruiz said.

The firm doesn't just do safety. It can help a company figure out its payroll services, set up wellness programs and institute sexual harassment policies.


After assessing a situation, Ruiz and Bigger design classes or specific training materials to help educate employees or in some cases supervisors.

In May, for example, Ruiz said his firm will stage classes for 30 supervisors working for a field labor contractor who will be charged with passing that information on to field workers.

"You can't expect them to do it if they haven't been trained," Bigger said.

With newfound knowledge the supervisors will be charged with educating field workers about the dangers of pesticides and the hazards of the job, Ruiz said.

"We want to get the employees thinking, ‘Do I really want to stick my hand in there?'" he said.

Meanwhile, Bigger said employers need to view safety training as an investment and not an expense.

"They keep putting it off, putting it off until something happens," he said.

Ruiz said he'll sometimes show up at a company's door just as Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials are getting ready to shut it down.

He calls those types of situations "bowls of spaghetti."

"We get in there and we try to straighten it out. We try to address any issues that hang over their heads," Ruiz said.

Recently, Ruiz was up to his elbows in "spaghetti" at a Bakersfield company but he said, "We got it straightened out. They'll be back in business."

Success stories such as that one have spread far and wide throughout Southern California, the two said.

Ruiz and Bigger have offices in El Centro, Yuma and San Diego in addition to the Heber home office started in 1995.

Bigger recently left the U.S. Customs Service to devote more time to the firm (and his family) after working part-time with Ruiz off and on for years. Ruiz said the firm has been able to grow because of "word of mouth."

For instance, Bigger said a Calipatria feedlot owner recently called five of his buddies and recommended the firm.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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