Bloomberg BNA

Wal-Mart agrees to upgrade safety policies at 2,900 stores to settle OSHA charges

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Courtesy of Bloomberg BNA

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has agreed to improve worker safety and health conditions in nearly 2,900 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores, resolving two Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforcement actions over alleged violations at a store in New York state, the agency announced Aug. 7.

The corporate-wide settlement includes provisions for Wal-Mart to improve safety and health policies and training related to trash compactors, cleaning chemicals, and hazard communications. The company will also pay a $190,000 fine.

“This settlement will help to keep thousands of exposed Wal-Mart workers safe and healthy on the job,” OSHA Administrator David Michaels said in an Aug. 7 statement. “We hope this sends a strong message that the law requires employers to provide safe working conditions, and OSHA will use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that all employers follow the law.”

Alleged Violations at New York Store

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, faced $365,500 in fines for alleged repeat and serious violations at a store in Rochester, N.Y. The alleged violations included fall hazards, obstructed exit routes, an absence of lockout/tagout procedures to allow maintenance on a trash compactor, an unguarded grinder, lack of training for employees using personal protective equipment, a lack of eye and face protection, and a lack of information and training on hazardous chemicals (42 OSHR 126, 2/9/12).

OSHA had cited Wal-Mart for similar hazards between 2008 and 2010 at facilities in South Mobile, Ala.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Plant City, Fla.; Rincon, Ga.; Jerseyville, Ill.; Festus, Mo.; Queensbury, N.Y.; Fargo, N.D.; and Tulsa, Okla., the agency said.

Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the company has long-standing safety and health policies and training requirements to protect its employees.

“When we learned of the concerns raised by OSHA at the Rochester, New York, store in 2011, we immediately addressed them and reinforced company guidelines,” Hargrove said. “We will continue providing training to associates nationwide including addressing areas outlined in the settlement.”

Worker Safety Policies

With the corporate-wide settlement, OSHA continued its tactic of leveraging large fines into health and safety policies across a company's chain of U.S. stores. In 2012, the agency obtained a corporate-wide settlement for DeMoulas Super Markets Inc. after assessing a $589,200 fine against the company for problems at two stores in New England (42 OSHR 432, 5/10/12).

The settlement with Wal-Mart stands out from past corporate-wide deals in that it mandates that independent auditors inspect the stores, retired OSHA assistant regional administrator John Newquist told BNA. The agreement calls for audits at 80 percent of stores under federal jurisdiction every four months for the length of the two-year agreement. Newquist was not involved in the settlement.

The auditors are to monitor compliance with the agreement that deal with trash compactor safety, including compactors remaining locked while not in use, and assuring compactors are not operated except under the supervision of a trained manager or other trained, designated monitor.

Also under the deal, Wal-Mart must strengthen safety procedures for cleaning chemicals such that workers do not handle undiluted chemicals and ensure it has a protective protocol to deal with any malfunctions with a store's cleaning chemicals dispensing equipment. The company will make certain that workers are trained on the new procedures in a language, format, and vocabulary that they can understand.

In addition, Wal-Mart must improve its hazard communications training.

While calling the deal progress, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health Executive Director Tom O'Connor marked the occasion by pointing out other concerns with the giant retailer.

“From its overreliance on temporary labor to its failure to prevent workplace violence or sign an international labor accord to improve working conditions in Bangladesh, Wal-Mart continues to jeopardize workers' safety both here and abroad,” O'Connor said.

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