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Feb
2015
3

Scores of Amputations, 1000s of Injuries Lead to $1.76M Fine at Ashley Furniture Facility

The deluxe edition of this sofa unit comes with a severed thumb.

The deluxe edition of this sofa unit comes with a severed thumb.


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Over 4,500 people work at the Ashley Furniture facility in Arcadia, Wisconsin. Stunningly, during the three-and-a-half year period covered by a new workplace safety investigation more than 1,000 workers suffered injuries. 

Go ahead. Catch your breath.

These 1,000+ injuries are what Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) found to be “recordable,” meaning they required treatment from someone other than the injured person.  The Department of Labor has announced that Ashley Furniture Industries will be forced to pay a $1.76 million fine after the investigation identified 12 willful, 12 repeated, and 14 serious safety violations.  

OSHA cited the Arcadia facility after a worker suffered a partial amputation of his fingers.  Another worker lost three fingers in a similar incident in July.  Investigators estimate at least 100 other injuries have occurred with similar machinery.  At least five other employees have suffered amputations.  Dr. David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, said in a statement:

“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.”

Michaels said the fine was a direct result of the serious nature of the offenses that occurred at the facility, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“We rarely issue a fine that is more than $1 million.  Having 1,000 work injuries in three years is proof positive that safety in this plant needs tremendous improvement.”

All the injuries were “serious” and “required more than first aid,” he said.

Timothy Kobernat, a retired OSHA district supervisor, told the Star Tribune that the fine “is the largest I have ever heard of in Wisconsin. Normally a $200,000 fine is a big deal around here. So this citation is big, even for a $3 billion company.”

In addition to the financial penalty, Ashley Furniture will be placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.  U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez issued a statement on the matter as well, saying:

“Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price.  Safety and profits are not an ‘either, or’ proposition. Successful companies across this nation have both.”

OSHA’s area director for Northwestern Wisconsin, Mark Hysell, called the violations “egregious.”  He told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that “Ashley Furniture has had a number of previous inspections and has had every opportunity to provide compliance to the federal standards and protect their employees,” adding, “They have not done that.”

Mind-blowingly, Ashley Furniture denies it has engaged in dangerous behavior. From their statement:

“The company strongly disagrees with each and every one of the agency’s assertions and believes the proposed penalties are grossly inappropriate and overzealous,” the statement said. “To clarify, OSHA’s announcement is not a finding of fact, but rather only an allegation.”

Ashley Furniture can now appeal the fines and penalties, which it appears they will do.  They have 15 days from receipt of the citations to decide if they will accept the penalties, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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