WHITEHALL, WI - Ashley Furniture, the nation's largest retailer of home decor, faces $431,000 in proposed federal safety and health fines for failing to protect workers from moving machine parts at its Whitehall upholstery factory. This penalty is in addition to more than $1.8 million in fines issued earlier this year during inspections at other company facilities in Wisconsin.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued Ashley Furniture one willful, five repeated and two serious citations on Oct. 19. Ashley faces the $431,000 in penalties as a result of an April 2015 inspection initiated under the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Company headquarters in Arcadia received similar citations in January 2015 and July 2015.
Ashley Furniture made news in the run up to the 2015 High Point Market (it opens Oct. 17) with the announcement that it is adding 450 new jobs at its Davie County, North Carolina manufacturing plant
"Workers risked amputation injuries each time they serviced the machinery," said Mark Hysell, OSHA's area director in Eau Claire. "Ashley Furniture failed to implement required safety procedures to protect machine operators until after OSHA opened its inspection. The company must make immediate, enforceable safety improvements at its facilities nationwide."
The agency determined that the company failed to implement procedures to prevent machines from unintentional start-up when operators changed blades, cleaned machines and cleared jams exposing workers to dangerous machine operating parts. The company failed to have operators use locking devices to prevent unexpected machine movement, a procedure known as lockout/tagout. This violation is among OSHA's most frequently cited and often results in death or permanent disability.
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The agency cited Ashley Furniture in January 2015 for 38 safety violations. Proposed penalties total $1,766,000. OSHA issued the citations following an investigation that found workers at the Arcadia plant experienced more than 1,000 OSHA recordable work-related injuries in the previous three and one-half years. A recordable injury requires medical treatment beyond first aid, or results in death, lost work hours, restricted work or a job transfer.
The agency also proposed penalties of $83,200 in July 2015 as a result of its investigation of a March 11, 2015, amputation injury. OSHA placed the company in the SVEP for failure to address safety hazards. As a result of the SVEP designation, inspections are open at Ashley's facilities in California, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and North Carolina.
Ashley Furniture has contested all citations issued. A hearing before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission will be scheduled.
Forbes lists Ashley Furniture as the 117th largest private company in America with $3.85 billion in annual revenue as of October 2014. The worldwide distributor employs nearly 20,000 workers at 30 locations nationwide. The Whitehall plant employs about 475 workers.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
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