Ashley Furniture is being fined $1.76 million for multiple violations of safety regulations— some of which were committed willfully and with full knowledge of the potentially negative consequences. The infractions have resulted in over 1,000 injuries at the company’s plant in Arcadia, Wisconsin over the last three and a half years. Ashley Furniture has responded by calling the fines inappropriate and overzealous but the number of injuries to plant workers over such a short period and the blatant disregard taken toward safety highlights a culture in the company in which the health and wellbeing of workers has taken a back seat to large profits and a small bottom line.
OSHA Investigation Launched Following Numerous Injuries to Workers
The sheer volume of workplace injuries being reported over the last several years incited the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to launch an investigation into the cause of the injuries and to explore whether proper measures were being taken to protect employees from harm. Numerous violations were discovered which included a dozen willful and repeated violations and 14 which were deemed to be a severe hazard to employees. As a result, the company is now required to undergo placement in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which will require the plant to be subject to regular inspections and change its policies to meet OSHA standards.
The fine and placement in the program come after Ashley Furniture was previously cited following an incident in which an employee had lost part of a finger in an accident. Many of the accidents resulting in concern have involved injuries in which workers are harmed by moving machinery or parts. It was determined that inadequate measures were taken to ensure that machinery would not start when workers did not intend for it to— such as when changing blades— and that the machinery lacked safety devices which could prevent contact with moving parts or reduce the severity of injuries. The company also failed to provide safety training or to properly train employees on how to properly operate dangerous machines capable of causing extreme bodily harm.
Legal Implications of OSHA Judgment
Ashley Furniture has expressed that is disagrees with every claim made by OSHA, but if the company is unable to win an appeal, the violations cited in the $1.76 million fine may be used as the basis for personal injury claims by workers who have been injured while working in the Arcadia plant. Workers are entitled to worker’s compensation in the event of any injury but may be able to receive additional compensation if it can be proven that Ashley Furniture acted negligently. Willful negligence often results in more harsh judgments against companies which can include punitive damages awarded to plaintiffs in order to punish the company or to set an example so that other companies avoid negligent policies and actions that may result in similar action.
Ashley Furniture has made the assertion that only a quarter of the 1,000 injuries reported over the last three and a half years were serious or required time off of work but multiple reports have already surfaced of injuries that resulted in the partial or complete removal of one or more fingers due to contact with moving machine parts. Given the number of injuries reported, this places the company in a precarious situation should over 250 employees have valid claims to make that Ashley Furniture’s willful violation of OSHA standards resulted in injuries that caused severe injuries that resulted in the inability to work or extended unemployment during recovery. Should the fine issued by OSHA withstand an appeal, employees should have all of the evidence they require to seek damages for their injuries.