Discounter Dollar Tree Inc. has racked up more workplace-safety violations this year at its stores than nearly any other business in the country, according to federal regulators, a surprise for a chain of retail outlets that had no explosion or worker fatality.
In the past we have written about workplace safety and avoiding OSHA Fines. The company has received 48 violations in the past 12 months for problems such as teetering boxes, unsecured gas tanks and blocked electrical outlets that safety officials said make working in the stores unsafe.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday fined the company $262,500 for violations at a store in Watauga, Texas, near Dallas. The fine was Dollar Tree’s fourth of more than $100,000 since May and brought the company’s total to $866,000 since last October. OSHA plans to announce the Watauga fine on Thursday.
OSHA chief David Michaels said Dollar Tree’s recent fines and number of violations could be the highest ever issued for a retail chain. The agency typically issues 30 to 40 citations a year of more than $200,000 each, he said.
“We see a problem in stores across the country,” Mr. Michaels said. “Each of these stores has some serious hazards.”
Rivals Dollar General Corp. and Family Dollar Stores Inc. each accumulated fines of less than $50,000 over the past year, even though both chains are larger than Dollar Tree. Dollar General and Family Dollar declined to comment.
Dollar Tree has agreed to buy Family Dollar for $8.5 billion, though Dollar General has made a competing offer.
Dollar Tree, which has around 87,000 employees and about 5,000 stores, said it is “committed to maintaining a safe workplace environment for each of our associates. We are currently in the process of contesting recent OSHA citations.”
Of the three big dollar-store chains, Dollar Tree most closely lives up to its name, selling most of its items for $1. Dollar General and Family Dollar sell at multiple prices that generally max out around $10 an item.
Both approaches put tremendous pressure on the companies to squeeze out costs to be profitable. Sometimes, no more than two employees work in a store at once. Store sizes typically run between 7,000 and 10,000 square feet.
That can create problems during big merchandise deliveries. Storerooms are small in some locations, meaning boxes are placed in aisles for unloading.
At the Watauga store, OSHA found boxes blocking an exit route, cartons piled 12 to 15 feet high in an unstable manner, unsecured helium cylinders that were in danger of falling on workers and electrical panels that were blocked with merchandise, which OSHA said could have exposed employees to burn and electrical shock injuries.
OSHA said the Watauga citations resulted in especially large fines because the agency had found similar problems at several other stores, indicating a willful violation of safety laws.
Looking at violations across a chain has been ramped up under the Obama administration, employer advocates said.
Some attorneys who represent companies in OSHA cases criticized some of the fines for retailers. “The kinds of things they are citing are trivial,” said Baruch Fellner, a lawyer who represents retailers in OSHA disputes.
Former employees who were injured at Dollar Tree stores said thousands of boxes of merchandise arrive in a week.
“Things are tumbling on you because the space in the storage room is so small,” said Renuka Prasad, a 57-year old former Dollar Tree worker from Lehigh, Fla. She said she quit after a box of cans fell on her head. “We were always complaining to the manager, but she doesn’t do anything.”
(FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 10/16/14) By Alexandra Berzon and Paul Ziobro