ARCADIA, WI – In a three-and-a-half year period, 4,500 employees at Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., in Arcadia, experienced more than 1,000 work-related injuries. One worker became another terrible statistic when he lost three fingers in July 2014 while operating a dangerous woodworking machine without required safety mechanisms in place. Of the injuries recorded, more than 100 were caused by similar machinery.
After the incident, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an inspection of the facility. Investigators identified 12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations at Ashley Furniture’s Arcadia location, carrying a total of $1,766,000 in penalties. The company has also been placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failure to address these safety hazards. OSHA previously cited the Arcadia facility in 2014 after an employee suffered a partial finger amputation.
“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.”
Dr. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor of occupational safety and health, said, “Ashley Furniture intentionally and willfully disregarded OSHA standards and its own corporate safety manuals to encourage workers to increase productivity and meet deadlines. 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. OSHA is committed to making sure that the total disregard Ashley Furniture has shown to safety stops here and now.”
Forbes lists Ashley Furniture Industries, a furniture manufacturer with worldwide distribution, as the 117th largest private company in America. With annual revenue of $3.85 billion as of October 2014, the company employs about 20,000 workers at 30 locations nationally. The Arcadia plant is also the largest employer in Wisconsin’s rural Trempealeau County, with a population of about 30,000.
The 12 willful and 12 repeated violations were cited after OSHA found that the company did not take the necessary steps to protect its workers from being injured by moving machine parts. It did not prevent machines from unintentionally starting when workers were performing tooling and blade changes on woodworking machinery, and also failed to provide adequate safety mechanisms to prevent contact with those moving parts. These types of violations are among the most frequently cited by OSHA and often result in death or permanent disability.
A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirement, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health. OSHA issues repeated violations if an employer previously was cited for the same or a similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.
OSHA also cited Ashley Furniture Industries for 14 serious violations, including not training workers on safety procedures and hazards present when servicing machinery. The company also lacked adequate drenching facilities for workers exposed to corrosive materials; it committed three electrical safety violations, and it did not equip some of its machines with readily-accessible emergency stop buttons.
An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm can result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.
Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., has had 33 federal OSHA inspections and 23 state plan inspections since 1982. In its 33 previous inspections, OSHA issued citations for 96 serious, four repeat and 38 other-than-serious violations. Four inspections were initiated as a result of finger amputations, with Arcadia’s 2014 incident being the most recent. Ashley Furniture’s workers’ compensation carrier is Twin City Fire Insurance Company, part of the Hartford Insurance Group.
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.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency’s Eau Claire Area Office at 715-832-9019.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor
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