Ashley Furniture To Pay $1.75M Over Worker Safety Violations

Image courtesy of Will

Following reports of more than 1,000 employee injuries, home furnishings retailer Ashley Furniture has agreed to pay $1.75 million to settle numerous allegations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that OSHA had accused the Wisconsin-based retailer of repeatedly failing to properly safeguard employees. The federal agency claimed that injuries suffered by these workers “went beyond First Aid.”

According to OSHA, the company engaged in egregious violations at its plants, where several employees lost fingers operating furniture-making machinery.

Ashley Furniture allegedly failed to implement safety procedures that would have protected workers from exposure to dangerous machine parts when changing blades, cleaning machines, and clearing jams. Additionally, the furniture company reportedly failed to have operators use locking devices to prevent unexpected machine movement.

OSHA first opened its investigation into the company in early 2015. The agency levied a $1.77 million fine on the company in February 2015 after finding “egregious” safety violations between 2011 and 2014 that left 1,000 workers injured.

Months later in July 2015, OSHA accused Ashley Furniture of failing to report that a worker had his right ring finger cut off by moving machine parts in March, as the company is required to do.

An OSHA inspection left Ashley with two willful violations for failing to protect workers from machinery operating parts and neglecting to report a hospitalization within 24 hours, along with two less-serious safety violations for not keeping accurate injury records. Since Ashley was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program earlier in the year, the company was facing proposed penalties of $83,200 for the incident.

Because another employee had a similar injury on the same type of machinery in January, the March incident had been classified as a willful violation.

“Workers at Ashley Furniture cannot count on their company to do what’s right when it comes to safety,” Mark Hysell, OSHA’s area director in Eau Claire, WI, where the plant is located, said at the time. “These workers are at risk because this company is intentionally and willfully disregarding OSHA standards and requirements.”

A third penalty of $431,000 was handed down in October 2015, for allegedly failing to protect workers from moving machine parts at its Whitehall, WI, furniture upholstery plant.

Under the settlement, Ashley Furniture will implement training and safety measures to protect employees and agreed to submit status reports to OSHA annually.

“With this settlement, Ashley Furniture is taking important steps to change its culture, invest in its employees and work with OSHA to make significant changes to protect the safety and health of workers,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a statement.

Ashley Furniture released a statement on the matter, saying that safety is a key value for the company.

“In the last five years, we have spent over $67 million on modern manufacturing equipment and safety initiatives with the goal of improving the working environment for our employees,” the company said, adding that it “worked cooperatively with OSHA and built a productive relationship. The resolution reached provides benefits to Ashley and its employees and will allow us to constructively move forward while focusing on our employees and the furniture business.”

Ashley Furniture agrees to $1.75M fine for safety violations [Minneapolis Star Tribune]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.