The residential furniture giant has been placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program after failing to address 12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations at its Arcadia, WI, location. OSHA announced its findings on February 2.
“Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Safety and profits are not an ‘either, or’ proposition. Successful companies across this nation have both.”
Ashley Furniture is disputing OSHA's claims. In a statement to the media, the company said, "Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. strongly disputes the allegations issued [Monday] by the U.S. Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding the company's safety operations in its Arcadia, Wisconsin facility. The company strongly disagrees with each and every one of the agency's assertions and believes the proposed penalties are grossly inappropriate and over-zealous. To clarify, OSHA's announcement is not a finding of fact, but rather only an allegation, Ashley strongly disagrees with each and every opinion of the agency, and looks forward to the opportunity to present our evidence in the proper setting."
Ashley's Arcadia plant was cited in 2014 after a worker suffered a partial finger amputation. According to OSHA, Ashley did not take necessary steps to protect its workers from being injured by moving machine parts and also failed to "prevent machines from unintentionally starting when workers were performing tooling and blade changes on woodworking machinery." OSHA said the company also did not provide training on safety procedures and hazards present when servicing machinery.
“Ashley Furniture intentionally and willfully disregarded OSHA standards and its own corporate safety manuals to encourage workers to increase productivity and meet deadlines," said Dr. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor of occupational safety and health. "The company apparently blamed the victims for their own injuries, but there is clear evidence that injuries were caused by the unsafe conditions created by the company.”
In a statement rebutting the allegations, Steve Ziegeweid, Ashley Director of Health and Safety, said “At Ashley, each employee’s safety and well-being is an absolute priority. In the past five years, Ashley has lowered our incident rate by 14 percent and our ‘days away, restricted or transferred’ rate by 28 percent – demonstrating our commitment to real and tangible improvements in safety across our company.”
Ashley has 15 business days, from receipt of the 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.
Forbes lists Ashley's revenues at $3.85 billion as of October 2014. The residential furniture and retail firm employs about 20,000 workers at 30 locations nationally.
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