Ashley furniture cited for not reporting incident, failing to protect workers

ARCADIA, Wis. —€" Already facing almost $1.8 million in fines for alleged safety violations, Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. was accused Tuesday of failing to report an incident in which a worker lost a finger.

Ashley was cited after the March incident in which a 56-year-old employee had his right ring finger amputated because moving machine parts. The company failed to report the injury to the U.S. Department of Labor'€™s Occupational Safety and Health Administration as required.

After an OSHA inspection, Ashley was issued two willful violations for failing to protect workers from machinery operating parts and neglecting to report a hospitalization within 24 hours. OSHA also 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.

According to OSHA, a person outside the company reported the injury to the agency almost 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, resulting in the agency classifying the March occurrences as a willful violation.

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


In a statement sent out Tuesday afternoon, Ashley officials strongly disputed the allegations.

"Despite our best efforts, we continue to disagree with the agency'€™s conclusions and the inspectors'€™ interpretations of various regulations,"€ the statement read. "€œThe agency'€™s document uses terms like '€˜serious,'€™ '€˜repeat'€™ and '€˜willful'€™ --€" which are definitions in their regulations. We do not believe such regulatory terminology reflects Ashley'€™s proven commitment to safety."€

During 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.

Ashley Furniture has contested citations for 38 safety violations issued by OSHA in January and proposed penalties totaling $1,766,000. The agency issued the citations after an investigation that found that workers at the Arcadia plant had experienced more than 1,000 work-related injuries in the previous 3½-year period.

"While we are disappointed by our inability to resolve our differences with the agency, we remain confident in our safety programs and procedures, as well as in our commitment to continuous improvement,"€ Ashley statement read. "€œWe look forward to the opportunity to present our evidence to OSHA'€™s allegations in the proper legal setting."€

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

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.

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