Industrial Hygiene

WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM ASHLEY FURNITURE’S MISTAKES TO AVOID OSHA VIOLATIONS

Looking at a company’s safety failures can push your company forward in understanding what not to do when it comes to workplace safety.
A recent OSHA investigation determined that Ashley Furniture had endangered several thousand workers at its Arcadia, Wis., manufacturing facility. Since 1982, the agency has conducted 33 federal inspections and 23 state plan inspections of Ashley Furniture. The company disputes the allegations.

Building a Culture of Safety

The subtitle of the OSHA press release of February 2, 2015, reads: “Largest furniture retailer in the U.S. exposes employees to amputations, other hazards.” After a worker lost three fingers in a woodworking machine accident in July 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an inspection of the furniture manufacturer’s Wisconsin facility.

The agency concluded that over 1,000 workplace injuries had occurred over a three-and-a-half-year period. The “12 willful, 12 repeated, and 14 serious safety violations” could cost Ashley Furniture $1.7 million in penalties.

At least 10 percent of the injuries shared the same cause: machines that started unintentionally when workers changed tools or blades. It was found that the risk could be easily remedied with inexpensive, emergency stop safety mechanisms. In the “penny wise, pound foolish” category of misplaced priorities, the company appears to have cut safety corners and now faces a far greater loss in steep fines.

Along with exposure to faulty equipment, the workers were not properly trained in safety when servicing the machinery. Company-imposed pressure to work quickly to meet deadlines and increase productivity was another contributing factor.

OSHA discovered that workers were being exposed to corrosive materials because the facility lacked adequate drenching and flushing procedures. Engineering controls that minimize employee exposure to chemical hazards by either reducing or removing the hazard at the source, or isolating the worker from the hazards, were lacking. Three electrical safety violations were also cited.

A willful OSHA 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 maintains that Ashley Furniture knew of the existing hazards and was willfully and intentionally negligent. The company has also been placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failure to address these safety hazards.

Safety and Profits

It’s a bit surprising to learn of the multiple risks that the largest furniture manufacturer in the country took with employee welfare, company reputation, and company capital. Reliable program development and expert training programs are available through environmental, health, and safety service firms specializing in training and compliance, such as SEA Inc. With compliance and safety management programs as well as portable and flexible training programs that are customized and site-specific, as well as conducted on site, there is no reason not to invest in the education and safety of a workforce.

OSHA and the major insurance carriers estimate that for every $1 you spend on safety and training you get $4 in return.

While $1,766,000 in penalties might not deal a huge blow to a nearly 4 billion-dollar company such as Ashley Furniture, any amount of fine is too much, in SEA’s opinion. Offering your employees OSHA training courses that meet or exceed the agency’s requirements, taught by SEA’s professional trainers with extensive, hands-on experience in the fields in which they train, ensures subject matter mastery for your workforce.

Students obtain in-depth knowledge and understanding of the applicable regulations, as well as practical methods of implementation to minimize environmental, safety, and health risks in the workplace. Competence and confidence increase, injuries and non-compliance fines decrease. Employees learn how to work smart and work safe.

Contact SEA Inc. to learn how our OSHA training courses, either in our facility or at your location, can help you maintain compliance, protect your workforce, and avoid costly OSHA violations. Call 501-568-3111, or toll free 888-627-8740 today.

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