The One OSHA Post Retailers Must Read.

If you are in any aspect of retail and a member of LinkedIn, you really need to read the comments on this post on one of the OSHA and Safety sites, “Have You Checked Your Means of Egress lately? Dollar Tree Didn’t…”.  

I’m not sure which will scare you more, the six and seven-figure OSHA Repeat citation exposure from common challenges such as partially blocked doors, extinguishers, and electric panels or the large number of OSHA citations against chain stores (including drug stores) or the vituperative comments posted about the cited retailers. 

Many bloggers even provided links to other companies’ OSHA citations.  The post turned into a discussion of many high-profile retailers.

DO YOU NEED THIS BAD PRESS AT A TIME WHEN SUCH INFORMATION IS BEING USED AGAINST RETAILERS, RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS?

These bloggers actually are doing you a service by reminding retailers of their special safety and OSHA challenges.  I’ve blogged on these topics before and encourage you to review those past blogs and articles I have written on retail and distribution OSHA exposure.  While the tone of the posts was harsh, the issues raised are legitimate, and these bloggers knew what OSHA checks.  I would not discount their observations, even if the facts may be different from what OSHA citations suggest.

The posts go on for pages, but here are a few snippets (I’ve tried to block references to company and blogger names) ….

I wanted to write about this because I frequently visit the “OSHA IMIS Database” and look at problem companies that I’d visited to see if they learned their lesson. BLOCKED, a company that most of our inspectors from the Reno, NV office had visited within about 7-10 months, was a FREQUENT violator of these rules.

In one visit I found the following violated standards:

1910.36(d)(1) Employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge. A device such as a panic bar that locks only from the outside is permitted on exit discharge doors.

How was it violated? The employer due to direction by the regional loss prevention manager had placed padlocks on each emergency exit door. Not that it mattered, but nobody had a key at the particular store, so even IF the manager had a key and was there, what happens to everybody else if he runs out the front door, or gets shot or incapacitated in some way, and the front door is blocked by an obstacle or hostile person? Not that it is OSHA’s jurisdiction, but what about the liability against the store/corporation if a customer falls victim to one of these violations?

1910.36(g)(2) An exit access must be at least 28 inches (71.1 cm) wide at all points. Where there is only one exit access leading to an exit or exit discharge, the width of the exit and exit discharge must be at least equal to the width of the exit access.

How was it violated? The employer frequently blocked emergency exit doors and routes with mobile conveyor tracks, and overstocked merchandise, and would leave a small 1′ ft gap between boxes and the exit, it wasn’t even identifiable while I was inspecting. If trapped by a life threatening hazard anybody who ran to the back for quick egress would have been stopped from exiting by a combination of the padlock, and items blocking the exit.

How was it violated? 1910.37(a)(3) Exit routes must be free and unobstructed. No materials or equipment may be placed, either permanently or temporarily, within the exit route. The exit access must not go through a room that can be locked, such as a bathroom, to reach an exit or exit discharge, nor may it lead into a dead-end corridor. Stairs or a ramp must be provided where the exit route is not substantially level.

How was it violated? This standard ad the one above are similar, but I cited if for the temporary obstruction of the routes and doors by other material, and forklifts/pallet jacks.

1910.37(a)(4) Safeguards designed to protect employees during an emergency (e.g., sprinkler systems, alarm systems, fire doors, exit lighting) must be in proper working order at all times.

How was it violated? Employees often snuck in the back during the snowy season to smoke, several fire sprinklers for whatever reason, along with a smoke detector were all covered with plastic bags, which rendered the sprinklers useless.

So these things as you can tell, are pretty easily fixed, and avoided; however, are very easy to cite, and can easily contribute to a death where they could have saved a life. When dealing with BLOCKED management, they had a very strange attitude. Rather than attend an informal conference, getting a reduction in penalty, or asking for reclassification of the citation to “Other-Than-Serious” and paying the fine, they just sent a check in the mail…we called and offered them the above option, they refused. The penalty for that visit was $36,000. They had several visits as I stated earlier, where they received repeat citations. They had the same regional, and area managers, and assumed that they could just pay the fines, and we’d go away. It seems that coming up with an enforceable work rule/practice would be a much better idea.

….

I checked IMIS today, and saw that they have been recently visited again by one of my former co-inspectors. This visit resulted in 3 willful citations and a repeat other-than-serious. This visit cost them $210,000 and destroyed their OSHA history. It only included one instance of the Means of Egress violation, the others were for blocked electrical panels, and unsafe overhead storage…things I’d cited them for in the past. In case you didn’t realize, there is a repeat citation rule that makes it so that, the penalty amounts are 2 x’s 3 x’s 4 x’s the original citation amount, and then each substantially similar situation resulting in a citation after that is automatically a willful citation for 5 years.

….

…the point is that BLOCKED is not alone in not being aware- this is a common shortcoming amongst those in retail. Over the course of the last couple of years you will find that a large percentage of the “big box” retailers have received he exac same ciations (as well as a host of other citations such as a lack of covers on electrical boxes, no MSDS sheets, improperly maintained electrical cords, lack of appropriate Haz Com, trash compactor issues, etc.).

….

BLOCKED (2nd Company) was recently hit for a bunch of safety issues at one of their stores. Here’s the news release: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=24624. Likewise, BLOCKED -3rd Company)was involved in a national settlement in August, the news release is here: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=24495. Here is the news release for a “home goods store” BLOCKED – 4th Company): https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=24360. And these were only from August and July.

….

One thing that the BLOCKED franchise fails to do, and many like them, is to provide better communication between each respective store manager and the corporate office/district manager. I have discussed this at great length with them before, and others just like them. Unfortunately, those who are not directly on site make merchandise delivery decisions based on expectations and assumptions of sales and inventory rather than what is realistic and the inventories that are actually on hand. A better system of inventory control is necessary and this has been conveyed to them many times, This is one of those instances where education and awareness is no longer effective, but unfortunately circumstances such as overstocking occurs very regularly, especially during the holidays. and oversight can best be achieved through legal action, including fines and penalties.

The BLOCKED and other big boxes have well established safety programs and managers to ensure that compliance is achieved and that there is a level of safety as well as awareness at each facility. As a result, they should have no excuses, nor should they have reoccurring violations.

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
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