Ashley Furniture cited again, faces new proposed penalties for failing to protect workers from moving machine parts

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Furniture retailer also did not report recent injury as required by OSHA

ARCADIA, Wis. -- A 56-year-old employee of furniture manufacturer Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. had his right ring finger amputated because the company has continued to ignore safety requirements to protect workers from moving machine parts. The company also failed to report the injury to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as required.

After an OSHA inspection, the agency issued citations to the Arcadia-based company on July 21. The company was issued two willful violations for failing to protect workers from machinery operating parts and neglecting to report a hospitalization within 24 hours. OSHA cited two other-than-serious safety violations for failing to keep accurate injury records. Placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program earlier this year, Ashley faces proposed penalties of $83,200 as a result of the agency's investigation of the March 11 injury.

A person outside the company reported the injury to OSHA nearly a month after the incident. Inspectors found the groover blade of a machine used to fabricate wooden drawers caused the amputation of the machine operator's finger. A 49-year-old employee had a similar injury on the same type of machinery in January 2015, resulting in the willful violation.

'Workers at Ashley Furniture cannot count on their company to do what's right when it comes to safety. These workers are at risk because this company is intentionally and willfully disregarding OSHA standards and requirements,' said Mark Hysell, OSHA's area director in Eau Claire.

In its inspections, OSHA found that Ashley failed to protect workers from dangerous machine operating parts when employees performed maintenance and during blade changes on woodworking machinery. Safety procedures require employers to prevent machines from unintentional operation during service and maintenance by using blocking and locking devices to prevent unexpected machine movement, a procedure known as lockout/tagout. This violation is among OSHA's most frequently cited and often results in death or permanent disability.

Ashley Furniture has contested citations issued by OSHA in January 2015, which cited the company for 38 safety violations at the Arcadia location. Proposed penalties total $1,766,000. A hearing before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission will be scheduled. The agency issued the citations following an investigation that found that workers at the Arcadia plant had experienced more than 1,000 work-related injuries in the previous three-and-a-half-year period.

At that time, OSHA placed the company in the SVEP for failure to address safety hazards. As a result of the SVEP designation, inspections are currently open at Ashley's facilities in California, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Forbes lists Ashley Furniture as the 117th largest private company in America with $3.85 billion in annual revenue as of October 2014. The worldwide distributor employs about 20,000 workers at 30 locations nationwide. The Arcadia plant is the largest employer in Trempealeau County.

The company has had 34 federal OSHA inspections and 23 state plan inspections since 1982. In its 33 previous inspections, OSHA issued citations for 96 serious, four repeated and 38 other-than-serious violations. Four inspections were initiated as a result of finger amputations, including one in 2014 at the Arcadia plant.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report amputations, eye loss, workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Eau Claire Area Office at 715-832-9019.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

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