3 Things Companies Should do to Avoid Fines & Employee Injuries

Last week, we wrote an article about Ashley Furniture receiving $1.76 million in safety fines. You can read the article here.

Though we had several ideas about what Ashley Furniture could have done better, we wanted to survey readers to get their input about some of the things the company should have done to avoid employee injuries and costly fines.

Based upon the survey results, the top three things Ashley Furniture should have done better in regards to safety are the following:

  1. Risk Assessment
  2. Machine Guarding
  3. Better Employee Training

Let’s look at these important safety components a little more closely!

Conduct Frequent Risk Assessments

According to survey respondents, risk assessment is the number one thing Ashley Furniture could have done better to avoid fines and employee injuries.

Simply put, risk assessment focuses on identifying measures to control the risks in a workplace.

Though many companies are currently striving to protect their employees in many ways, risk assessments can help employers decide if they are fully covering all of their bases when it comes to safety.

Based upon the fact that Ashley Furniture has been inspected several times since 1982, resulting in citations for over 100 violations, it is clear Ashley Furniture is not taking a 360 degree approach to safety and has neglected to assess the risks their employees may encounter during the workday. We agree with our survey respondents that the company should have been conducting risk assessments—or at least more effective ones.

According to the Public Services Health & Safety Association, there are six steps to conducting a risk assessment, including:

  1. Create an inventory of occupations. Every department/position should be considered in order to be effective.
  2. Identify job tasks within each department/position. Focus on hands-on work rather than administrative duties.
  3. Evaluate the risk of an injury or illness occurring as a result of the job tasks within each occupation. Use frequency, probability, and consequence as guides.
  4. Take all the job tasks that have been inventoried and prioritize them by risk. Select the job tasks with the highest degree of risks to focus on.
  5. Conduct a job hazard analysis (JHA) on the inventoried job tasks. This should be done as a team effort, with several functional groups represented.
  6. Re-evaluate the process and written procedure on a regular basis.

Machine Guarding is a Must

Tied with better employee training for second place, machine guarding is another thing Ashley Furniture should have done better.

Machine guarding involves reviewing the major mechanical motions of machines in a workplace and the general principles of safeguarding them to avoid employee injury.

Safeguards should meet these minimum general requirements:

  • Prevent contact by eliminating the possibility of the operator or another worker placing parts of their bodies near hazardous moving parts.
  • Ensure the safeguard is secure so it is not easily removed or tampered with.
  • Prevent falling objects from falling into moving parts.
  • Create no new hazards (e.g., a shear point, jagged edge, etc.).
  • Create no interference, as any safeguard which impedes a worker from performing the job quickly and comfortably is likely to be overridden or disregarded.
  • Allow for safe lubrication without removing the safeguard.

Unfortunately, machinery claims far too many limbs and lives from workers around the world. Over a three-and-a-half year period, of the 1,000 recorded work-related injuries at Ashley Furniture’s Arcadia facility, 100 were caused by dangerous machinery without required safety mechanisms in place. This resulted in several disastrous employee amputations, with the most recent occurrence taking place in July 2014 when a worker lost three fingers.

Train Employees on How to Work in a Safe Manner

Based upon our survey results, respondents believe a lack-of employee safety training is another one of the major reasons Ashley Furniture is currently facing $1.76 million in fines and we couldn’t agree more.

In fact, OSHA’s news release clearly states not training workers on safety procedures and hazards present when servicing machinery as one of the 14 serious violations the company was cited for.

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 does not specifically address the responsibility of employers to provide health and safety information and instruction to employees, Section 5(a)(2) does require that each employer “comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.” Furthermore, more than 100 of the Act’s current standards contain training requirements.

OSHA’s safety training requirements publication is a great resource for employers, managers, and safety personnel to determine the general topics and hour requirements, in some cases, needed for specific industries and job hazards.

Thank you again to all who participated in our survey and forum discussions!

Do you think the $1.76 million fine Ashley Furniture received will be enough to encourage the company to change its ways? Comment below or join our forum conversation.