Ashley Furniture, one of the world’s largest furniture manufacturers, faces $1.7 million in penalties to settle charges that unsafe conditions at its manufacturing plant in Arcadia, Wis., led to more than 1,000 injuries.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company for dozens of violations, including disregard for safety standards that led to a number of gruesome injuries. In July, one worker lost three fingers while operating a woodworking machine, the agency said.
The company also offered employees incentives to work quickly, a practice that encouraged dangerous factory conditions, the agency said.
“Regrettably, Ashley Furniture has become a frequent flier for OSHA,” Thomas E. Perez, the labor secretary, said in an interview. “We have been inspecting this plant a number of times. We have found violations previously. They have been fined; we have come back. The fundamental challenge is they need to build a better culture of safety, and that hasn’t happened.”
In a statement, Ashley Furniture said it “strongly disputes the allegations from OSHA” and “looks forward to the opportunity to present our evidence in the proper setting.”
The company “strongly disagrees with each and every one of the agency’s assertions and believes the proposed penalties are grossly inappropriate and overzealous,” it said in an email.
The penalties are on the large side for OSHA. In April, Republic Steel agreed to pay $2.4 million related to health and safety violations at several of its plants in Ohio and New York.
OSHA has also placed Ashley Furniture in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program for its failure to fix a number of issues, including 12 repeated safety violations, each of which carries a penalty of up to $70,000.
The agency had previously cited Ashley Furniture in 2014 when another worker lost part of a finger. OSHA opened its investigation after the more recent incident in July, and found that workers had suffered more than 1,000 injuries over a 3-1/2-year period.
Of those injuries, 100 were caused by similar machinery. Ashley Furniture employs about 4,500 workers at its facility in Arcadia, according to the agency.
Ashley Furniture has 15 business days to pay or contest the penalties.
OSHA has conducted 33 federal inspections and 23 state plan inspections of Ashley Furniture since 1982, the agency said in a statement. Four inspections came after employees suffered finger amputations, and the agency has issued 96 serious violations as a result of its federal inspections. A violation is considered serious if “death or serious physical harm can result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists,” the agency said in a statement.
Penalties of $1.7 million may be a drop in the bucket for Ashley Furniture, which had annual revenue of $3.85 billion as of October 2014, according to Forbes. Perez said he hoped that the latest round of penalties would help the company take appropriate action to protect its brand.
“The failure to have appropriate and proper safety culture puts their brand in serious jeopardy,” Perez said.
OSHA has not recorded any deaths at the Arcadia facility, according to a spokesman, Jesse Lawder.