Adding to the more than $21 million in fines the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed since 2017 against the employer, a nationwide discount retailer was recently hit with $3.4 million more for work safety violations across nine locations. OSHA inspectors found these violations at nine locations in Maine, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin in late 2022. In March 2023, OSHA discussed enforcement priorities and increased inspections, including an expanded Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Notably, the discount retailer in question was the first severe violator to be added under OSHA’s expanded program.

A History of Work Safety Violations

Common work safety violations at the discount retailers’ many locations often involve boxes of merchandise left for prolonged periods of time in aisleways, electrical rooms, exit routes, and in front of emergency exits waiting to be stocked. Recent inspections found similar safety violations across all nine additional locations across four states. These indeed included blocked aisles, emergency exits, exit routes, fire extinguishers, and electrical panels. Meanwhile, such boxes of products and other materials were stacked unsafely. The work safety violations exposed workers to fire, electrical, struck-by, and other hazards. OSHA inspectors also found additional work safety violations in three locations:

  • At the Maine location, inspectors found that the store did not visually inspect fire extinguishers at least monthly, as required.
  • In one North Dakota location, inspectors found that the discount retailer exposed at least six workers to toxic vapors when several chemical containers ruptured and their contents mixed. The employer did not provide the appropriate respirators or personal protective equipment and failed to train workers in handling and cleaning hazardous chemicals.
  • Finally, in the Wisconsin location, inspectors found unsafe electrical cords, failure to inspect fire extinguishers, and crushing hazards.

The General Duty Clause of the OSH Act

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), which established OSHA, sets and enforces workplace safety and health standards. In doing so, it assures safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women. Notably, the OSH Act’s “General Duty Clause” requires that all employers:

  1. shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; and
  2. shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

In compliance with the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause and to avoid OSHA safety violations and costly litigation, employers should recognize and fix common workplace hazards. Indeed, these common workplace hazards include safety hazards like blocked exit routes, trip hazards, and unstable stacked items.

$3.4 Million More in Proposed OSHA Penalties

OSHA cited the Maine locations with five repeat violations carrying $321,419 in new penalties. For 32 identified violations across all North Dakota locations, OSHA proposed $2.5 million in penalties. At the Ohio location, the agency found three repeat violations, adding up to $270,116 in penalties. Finally, OSHA proposed $267,216 in penalties against the Wisconsin store. OSHA’s total proposed penalties of $3.4 million for the work safety violations at these locations increase the nationwide retailers’ running total of more than $21 million in OSHA penalties across 240 inspections since 2017.