• OSHA cites Ashley Furniture for safety violations, seeks $431,000 fine

    A federal agency has again cited Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. for alleged safety violations at one of its Wisconsin factories, saying the company failed to protect workers from moving machine parts.

    The staff of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants Ashley to be fined $431,000. The company is contesting another $1.8 million in proposed fines from previous inspections at its huge factory in Arcadia, in western Wisconsin.

    The citations announced Monday center on Ashley's upholstery plant in Whitehall.

    There, OSHA said, Ashley failed to put in place procedures to keep machines from accidentally starting up while workers cleaned them, changed blades or cleared jams.

    The bulk of the proposed fines are for alleged repeat violations of the so-called lockout rule. Ashley committed the same sort of violation at its Arcadia factory in 2010, according to the latest citations.

    About 475 people work at the Whitehall plant.

    In a statement, Ashley called the allegations "outrageous" and said it "will vigorously challenge" the citations.

    The citations are not a finding of fact, the company noted.

    "The claim that Ashley failed to protect its workers from moving machine parts is outrageous," Paul Waters, legal counsel for the firm, said in the statement. "At all times, Ashley has machine guards in place that are provided by the manufacturer and, in some cases, the company has gone beyond what manufacturers put in place by installing additional guards and implementing special procedures to protect workers.

    Early this year, OSHA staff accused Ashley of 38 safety violations at its Arcadia factory, said the firm was emphasizing profit over worker safety and sought nearly $1.8 million in fines.

    In July, OSHA cited Ashley again, for allegedly failing to report an accident in which an employee lost a finger. The agency staff is seeking $83,200 in fines in that case.

    Ashley is contesting the citations and fines in both cases. Generally speaking, proposed fines initially announced by OSHA staff often end up begin reduced after negotiations between the target companies and the agency.

    OSHA has placed Ashley in its "severe violator enforcement program" and said in February that there had been more than 1,000 work-related injuries over 31/2 years at the Arcadia factory.

    About 4,500 people work at the plant, one of the largest furniture-making operations in the United States.