Furniture Store Cited for Worker Safety Violations Third Time This Year

For the third time this year, federal regulators have accused a furniture manufacturer of failing to protect workers from moving machine parts.
Inspectors at the Occupational Safety & Health Administration are recommending a find of $430,000 to Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., which has numerous distribution locations in South Carolina, as well as a manufacturing site in North Carolina. Word of the newest violations came as the company is contesting a total of $1.9 in fines from two previous inspections that revealed troubling safety problems.

The newest allegations involve the company’s alleged failure to ensure that upholstery machines will shut down anytime workers are clearing jams, changing blades or cleaning the machines. These allegations are centered on a facility that employes some 475 workers. Most of these issues are related to what are known as “lockout-tagout” rules, and the violations are considered “repeat.”

Not only were similar violations alleged twice this year, but they were also asserted back in 2010.

Representatives for the company, however, insist they will challenge the allegations and citations “vigorously.” The company insists that not only does it adhere to manufacturer specifications regarding machine protections and worker safety, it goes beyond that. A spokesman for the furniture firm stated that not only are the machine guards in place at at all times, the company sometimes places additional guards and sometimes implements other special procedures to make sure workers are protected.

In February, the U.S. Labor Department imposed a $1.8 million fine against the company after it was reported that over the course of 3.5 years, there were 1,000 work-related injuries at a facility employing approximately 4,500 workers. Those 1,000 injuries were what were deemed “recordable,” because they required treatment by someone other than the injured person. Although the company vehemently denied the allegations, the inspectors identified a reported 38 safety violations at that single manufacturing site, with 12 of those being “willful.” That means the company was aware violations were being committed, and did so with knowing and voluntary disregard for the law and with indifference to worker health and safety. Another dozen violations were considered “repeat.”

Then in July, the company was ordered to pay more than $83,000 for additional infractions that included failure to report work-related injuries. One of those involved a 56-year-old worker who lost his ring finger following an accident this spring involving a reportedly unsafe machine. Federal investigators only found out about the incident after being contacted by a family member of the worker.

It was at that time authorities placed the furniture company in its “severe violator” program.

For its part, the company stated it was “disappointed” that it had been unable to “resolve our differences” with OSHA. Meanwhile, federal investigators were calling the company’s violations “egregious.”

Now these additional fines are on the table.

If you have been injured in a machine-related mishap at work, contact our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
OSHA Issues $431K In New Penalties Against Ashley Furniture, Oct. 20, 2015, By Hope Kirwan, Wisconsin Publi adio

More Blog Entries:
Wilkes v. Greenville – On-the-Job Car Accident, Oct. 16, 2015, Anderson Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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