Ashley Furniture recently made headlines for losing a bet against Ohio State’s football team − a bet that cost $1.5 million. But Ashley Furniture’s factory in Wisconsin made a much more dangerous bet when they compromised on worker safety and health.
Over the past three years, more than 1,000 injuries were recorded at a facility that employs 4,500 workers in the small town of Arcadia, Wisconsin. Multiple employees suffered gruesome and debilitating amputations on dangerous woodworking machinery, including one man who lost three fingers in July 2014.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had to step in. After an investigation into Ashely’s troubling safety record, the agency proposed $1.7 million in fines for willful and repeated violations of rules that would have prevented these tragic injuries. The company also paid workers based on each piece they produced, rather than at a fixed rate. This kind of policy can incentivize safety short cuts in order to maximize production.
In addition, it appears that Ashley Furniture blamed many of the workers for their injuries. Yes, you read that right, Ashley has implied that people were responsible for the amputations they received from machines without proper safety mechanisms.
We here at OSHA know just how unfair that claim is to those who suffered these life-altering injuries. Injuries are caused by unsafe conditions and they are almost always preventable if a company makes safety a priority, but Ashley failed to do that time and time again. In fact, OSHA found that workers were experiencing serious injuries even on equipment that Ashley had evaluated and then certified as “safe” because those evaluations were not done properly.
Before the first of this year, Ashley wasn’t required to report injuries like this to anyone. Now, employers must report any amputation or injury requiring hospitalization to OSHA within 24 hours.
The incidents at Ashley Furniture are an illustration of why these reporting requirements needed to change. Had we known the extensive hazards at this facility sooner, we may have been able to intervene before so many workers had to suffer.
Ultimately, even one injury is too many, and Ashley Furniture absolutely must learn that they can no longer gamble with the lives and livelihoods of their employees. It is a bet where everyone loses, every time.