OSHA Seeks to Ensure Furniture Maker Meets Settlement Duties

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By Bruce Rolfsen

OSHA’s $1.75 million settlement with Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., the nation’s largest home furnishing maker and retailer, is back in court.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to grant a petition for summary enforcement for a court-approved agreement between OSHA and Ashley ( Hugler v. Ashley Furniture Indus. Inc. , 7th Cir., No. 17-1765, 4/12/17 ).

The petition serves as an extra layer of protection to ensure that the company fulfills its obligations under the settlement even though both sides agree that Ashley hasn’t done anything wrong since it was approved.

OSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere told Bloomberg BNA April 17 that the filing is a routine request for large-scale agreements and that that Ashley is “in compliance with its settlement obligations.”

Petitions for summary enforcement are allowed by Section 11(b) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. If a court approves, the decision opens the door for a judge to later decide that an employer is in contempt of court for not obeying the agreement and is liable for higher fines and potential jail time.

Caught By Surprise

The petition caught Ashley by surprise, company spokesman Cole Bawek told Bloomberg BNA April 17.

At a recent conference, OSHA held out the partnership as a success story, Bawek said. And following an inspection, OSHA praised the company’s progress and compliance.

After Ashley learned of the petition, the company contacted OSHA officials, Bawek said. OSHA told them the petition wasn’t related to the employer’s performance.

The Ashley settlement, among the largest ever for OSHA, was approved June 3 and closed seven cases from 2015 that Ashley had appealed to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Proposed fines had totaled about $2.53 million.

In addition to paying the $1.75 million penalty, Ashley agreed to institute a program to identify machine hazards, hire a third-party safety consultant, provide lockout/tagout training to machine operators and provide OSHA with three details compliance reports during the life of the agreement.

Summary Judgment Petitions Rare

OSHA rarely files a petition for summary enforcement. A Bloomberg BNA review of Department of Labor appeals court actions found that three were sought in 2016.

Among the large employers for which OSHA obtained summary enforcements in the past five years were ConAgra Foods Inc. and Republic Steel.

Ashley employs about 16,300 people in its manufacturing and retail operations and had revenues of $1.4 billion in 2015, according to Bloomberg Finance LP.

Heather R. Phillips and Jin Y. Chong of the Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor in Washington represent OSHA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The petition is available at http://src.bna.com/nXa.

The settlement is available at http://src.bna.com/fIf.

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