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OSHA Fines Ashley Furniture $1.7M for Workplace Safety Violations

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 05, 2015 9:11 AM

Federal agencies keep on trucking with hefty fines for breaking laws: $70 million from Honda, $300 million to the EPA -- at this rate, we'll pay off the national debt. (Just kidding.)

Compared to all that, Ashley Furniture's penalty of $1.7 million seems like pocket change. The global furniture manufacturer, with headquarters in Arcadia, Wisconsin, ran afoul of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Production at the Expense of Safety

According to a Department of Labor press release, OSHA has cited Ashley Furniture for "dozens of violations" at its Arcadia factory. Some resulted in gruesome accidents, including one in July in which an employee lost three fingers while operating a woodworking machine that lacked required safety mechanisms.

All totaled, OSHA identified 12 "willful," 12 "repeated," and 14 "serious" violations. OSHA placed Ashley Furniture in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which increases penalties and enforcement for repeat violators. Over three and a half years, 4,500 employees had more than 1,000 work-related injuries.

OSHA said that the violations were the result of Ashley Furniture's desire to speed up production at the expense of safety. The company apparently didn't even prevent machines from accidentally starting while workers were switching out blades. Among "serious" violations, Ashley didn't adequately train workers on safety procedures and didn't equip some machines with easily accessible emergency stop buttons.

Ashley Furniture said in a statement to The New York Times that it "strongly disagrees with each and every one of the agency's assertions and believes the proposed penalties are grossly inappropriate and overzealous." Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, though, criticized just that attitude, telling the Times that Ashley has a history of blaming workers themselves for accidents that could have been alleviated with the proper safety mechanisms.

Is That Even Enough?

Notably, OSHA said that bonuses to employees to finish work quickly supported their claim that Ashley was more concerned about profits than employee welfare.

Naturally, you want workers to move quickly and money to get made -- but hopefully not at the expense of safety. Given Ashley's $3.85 billion in annual revenue, however, will a $1.7 million fine encourage the company to not cut corners? Indeed, Perez called Ashley "a frequent flier for OSHA." Though the Times said that $1.7 million is large for an OSHA fine, it may not be large enough.

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