The U.S. Labor Department said Ashley Furniture Industries failed to report that a worker lost a finger in March while operating a machine, adding to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s complaints levied against the Wisconsin company.
OSHA on Tuesday proposed $83,200 in fresh fines on top of the massive $1.77 million fine leveled against the Arcadia, Wis.-based company in January for alleged repeated and “willful” worker safety violations.
Ashley said it “strongly disputes” the allegations.
In January, OSHA accused Ashley’s factories of causing 1,000 worker injuries over 36 months by repeatedly failing to properly guard machines and for then blaming at least some of the injured workers for the accidents. Some 38 cases occurred in the company’s Arcadia complex, including six amputations.
Ashley was placed in OSHA’s “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.” The company is contesting the January fines and has said it vigorously denies OSHA’s allegations and injury totals. A hearing before OSHA’s Health Review Commission has yet to be scheduled.
The new OSHA complaint, filed Tuesday, includes two “willful violations” and two other “safety violations” after investigating a tip that a 56-year-old furniture worker at the Arcadia factory had his right ring finger amputated.
OSHA officials said the accident was “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 OSHA as required.”
Someone outside the company reported the worker’s injury to OSHA about a month after the accident. OSHA said Ashley was required to report that type of event to the agency within 24 hours.
Ashley said in a statement Tuesday that it “strongly disputes the allegations issued … by the U.S. OSHA regarding the safety of our operations. Despite our best efforts, we continue to disagree with the agency’s conclusions and the inspectors’ interpretations of various regulations. The 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.”
Company officials declined to comment beyond the statement or to address specific complaints about the OSHA report.
OSHA officials said Ashley has 15 days to respond to the new citations filed Tuesday. The agency reported that a recent inspection of the Arcadia plant helped determine that the worker’s finger was cut off by a machine groover blade that is used to fabricate wooden drawers.
Mark Hysell, director for OSHA’s Eau Claire area, said in a statement that a similar injury on the same type of machine occurred in January.
“Workers at Ashley Furniture cannot count on their company to do what’s right when it comes to safety,” he said in the statement. “These workers are at risk because this company is intentionally and willfully disregarding OSHA standards and requirements.”
The company was cited for not protecting employees performing maintenance and during blade changes on woodworking machinery. “This violation is among OSHA’s most frequently cited and often results in death or permanent disability,” OSHA officials said.
Ashley, one of the largest manufacturers of furniture, states on its website that it has more than 4,000 employees on its Arcadia campus. Arcadia only has about 2,400 residents, making the company one of the largest employers in the region.
Ashley, owned by father and son Ron and Todd Wanek, operates manufacturing plants in Wisconsin, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, California and North Carolina, as well as China and Vietnam.