Wisconsin's Ashley Furniture faces $1.76 million in fines over worker injuries

ARCADIA, Wis. (WITI) -- 4,500 employees at Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., in Arcadia, experienced more than 1,000 work-related injuries in a three-and-a-half year period.

One worker became another terrible statistic when he lost three fingers in July 2014 while operating a dangerous woodworking machine without required safety mechanisms in place. Of the injuries recorded, more than 100 were caused by similar machinery.

After the incident, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an inspection of the facility. Investigators identified 12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations at Ashley Furniture’s Arcadia location, carrying a total of $1,766,000 in penalties. The company has also been placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failure to address these safety hazards. OSHA previously cited the Arcadia facility in 2014 after an employee suffered a partial finger amputation.

The 12 willful and 12 repeated violations were cited after OSHA found that the company did not take the necessary steps to protect its workers from being injured by moving machine parts. It 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. These types of violations are among the most frequently cited by OSHA and often result in death or permanent disability.

OSHA also cited Ashley Furniture Industries for 14 serious violations, including not training workers on safety procedures and hazards present when servicing machinery. The company also lacked adequate drenching facilities for workers exposed to corrosive materials; it committed three electrical safety violations, and it did not equip some of its machines with readily-accessible emergency stop buttons.

Ashley Furniture has issued this statement to FOX6 News:

"Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. strongly disputes the allegations issued by the U.S. Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on February 2, 2015 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."