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Ashley Furniture faces OSHA fines over worker injuries

Ashley Furniture faces OSHA fines over worker injuries

A major furniture manufacturer faces $1.8 million in fines from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration because it experienced more than 1,000 work-related injuries over a 3½-year period, OSHA said Monday.

The company, Arcadia, Wisconsin-based Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., in a statement said it “strongly disputes” the OSHA findings.

OSHA said its inspectors found 12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations at Ashley Furniture's Arcadia plant. The company, which had annual revenue of $3.85 billion as of October 2014, employs about 20,000 workers at 30 locations nationally.

OSHA said it found the privately held company did not take the necessary steps to protect its workers from being injured by moving machine parts. The agency said the firm also 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 cited a July 2014 incident in which a worker lost three fingers while operating a dangerous woodworking machine without the required safety mechanisms in place.

“Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in the statement. “Safety and profits are not an 'either, or' proposition. Successful companies across this nation have both."

The statement identified the company's workers compensation insurer as Twin City Fie Insurance Co., part of The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc.

The company has 15 days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, according to OSHA.

The company said in a statement that it “strongly disputes the allegations issued today by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding the company's safety operations in its Arcadia, Wisconsin facility.”

“The company strongly disagrees with each and every one of the agency's assertions and believes the proposed penalties are grossly inappropriate and over-zealous. To clarify, OSHA's announcement is not a finding of fact, but rather only an allegation. Ashley strongly disagrees with each and every opinion of the agency, and looks forward to the opportunity to present our evidence in the proper setting.”

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