Workplace Safety Hazards in Retail Industry

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

OSHA has been turning its attention to workplace safety hazards in warehouses and retail stores.

TAKEAWAYS

  • Workplace safety hazards lead to employee injuries and complaints, opening the company to inspections and violations.
  • Employers should take reasonable steps to identify, assess and control hazards.

As the pandemic subsides, workplace safety in the retail industry has emerged as a focus area for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). For example, Amazon warehouses in New York, Colorado, and Idaho were recently inspected as part of an ongoing investigation by OSHA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Inspectors focused on injury and illness recordkeeping, ergonomics, and industrial truck/forklift/machinery programs. Current and former Amazon employees have been asked to report information about working conditions, as some employees claim worker safety is compromised in favor of speed and meeting productivity quotas.

OSHA’s inspections of Family Dollar are also illustrative. Following inspections of two stores in Ohio earlier this year, Family Dollar received 11 violations and more than $1.2 million in penalties. OSHA found blocked exits, unstable stacks of goods, cluttered working areas, and inaccessible electrical equipment and fire extinguishers. At one store, “water-soaked ceiling tiles” had fallen to the floor on at least two occasions in “close proximity” to employees. Family Dollar and parent company Dollar Tree have received more than 300 violations over the last five years.

Family Dollar also received $330,446 in proposed penalties following the cardiac arrest death of an employee in Orlando, Florida, who tried to stop a shoplifter. OSHA emphasizes the need for written violence prevention and training programs. Training would include proper procedures to follow in case of robbery and/or shoplifting, and how to request immediate assistance from the local police department or an alarm company.

While the penalties for workplace safety violations may not be significant to large employers, there are considerations beyond the up-front dollar amount. First, if a violation is accepted and not appealed, that violation could set the employer up for a repeat violation, allowing higher penalties to be levied the second time around. Not appealing a citation could also imply the employer’s acceptance of the agency’s interpretation of a regulation or standard, which could impose burdensome and costly obligations on the company and the rest of the industry. Finally, in California, there has been a trend in District Attorneys’ offices to use workplace safety citations as the basis for complaints alleging violations of California unfair competition and false advertising laws—this overlap could lead to the employer litigating (and paying penalties for) the same underlying incident twice.

To reduce the likelihood of employee injuries and to provide a safe workplace for employees, employers should take reasonable steps, such as:

  • Evaluate workplace for potential and actual safety hazards, including violence by colleagues and customers
  • Review injury and illness prevention plans, and update as necessary
  • Provide initial and refresher training
  • Ensure employees use safe and properly maintained tools and equipment
  • Warn employees of potential hazards using color codes, posters, labels or signs
  • Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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