Wisconsin Furniture Plant Fined $1.76M for Worker Injuries

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is fining Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. $1.76 million for worker injuries at its Arcadia, Wis., plant, the agency said.

OSHA said the plant saw more than 1,000 work-related injuries in a 42 month period. One worker lost three fingers in July while operating a woodworking machine, the agency said.

In a statement, Arcadia-based Ashley Furniture said it “strongly disputes” the allegations and believes the proposed penalties are “grossly inappropriate and overzealous.”

“At Ashley, each employee’s safety and well-being is an absolute priority,” said Steve Ziegeweid, Ashley Furniture’s director of health and safety.

Investigators identified 12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations at the plant, OSHA said. Ashley Furniture has now been placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failing to address safety hazards. OSHA previously cited the Arcadia plant in 2014 after an employee suffered a partial finger amputation.

“Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price,” U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a news release.

OSHA cited Ashley Furniture for 12 willful and 12 repeated violations after finding the company did not take steps to protect its workers from being injured by moving machine parts. The company did not prevent machines from unintentionally starting when workers were performing tooling and blade changes on woodworking machinery, and also failed to provide adequate safety mechanisms to prevent contact with those moving parts, OSHA said.

The 14 serious safety violations include not training workers on safety procedures and hazards present when servicing machinery, OSHA said.

In response, Ashley Furniture said less than 1-in-4 of the cases required any time away from work, and that the “vast majority” of cases were relatively minor. The most common injury was muscle strains and sprains, which is the focus of Ashley Furniture’s ergonomics program, the company said.

Ashley Furniture has 15 business days to contest the findings. The privately held company said it “strongly disagrees with each and every opinion of the agency, and looks forward to the opportunity to present our evidence in the proper setting.”

Source: OSHA