Dollar Tree Stores is no stranger to run-ins with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over its treatment of employees. This time, the discount retailer is under fire for willfully and repeatedly exposing its workers to unsafe conditions. Notably, inspectors saw falling boxes strike an employee, and now OSHA is pushing for a penalty against Dollar Tree to the tune of $103,000.
Before this most recent incident, Dollar Tree has been…
- Fined more than $800,000 for similar OSHA violations.
- Cited for 234 safety violations.
- Accused of violating worker safety in 26 states.
As you may know, each workplace safety violation comes at a cost. For instance, Dollar General's failure to clear the work area around electrical panels is a $33,000 penalty. The improperly stored boxes? A $70,000 penalty. Because Dollar Tree's violations were deemed as "willful" – i.e., the company knew about the issue and ignored it (or just plumb didn't care) – the penalties are weighed more heavily. Ditto for repeat violations.
You may be saying to yourself, "I would never do such a thing to my employees!" And hopefully, you wouldn't because it's both illegal and expensive.
But here's the thing: during the bustle of the busy workday, it's easy to lose sight of how important and prevalent workplace safety issues are. Even though you have Workers' Compensation Insurance to cover expenses related to employee occupational injuries, the real hope is that you won't need to use that coverage. Plus more claims may mean higher Workers' Comp costs. And that's why you can't let down your guard or let things slide (e.g., leaving walkways cluttered or spills unattended).
5 Workplace Safety Don'ts
Now that you're ready to step up your efforts to keep your employees safe and your business off of OSHA's to-watch list, let's take a look at what not to do.
- Don't assume offices are inherently safe. Sure, your employees may not work in a warehouse. But offices can still pose risks to employee health. For instance, if you have workers who spend the majority of their time typing away in front of computer screens, they could be at risk for eyestrain, repetitive motion injuries, and lower back problems.
- Don't skimp on safety investments. One way to limit workplace injuries is to invest in safety gear. For example, your cleaning business may supply employees with gloves and masks to protect them from the hazards of strong cleaning agents. If you own an accounting firm, invest in split keyboards and ergonomic chairs to reduce the chance of carpal tunnel and strains.
- Don't underestimate the power of safety training. Knowing the risks is half the battle. Ensure your staff is properly trained to cut down on possible work accidents and Workers' Comp claims. For example, if you own a small restaurant, your staff should be aware that slip-and-fall injuries are common in the kitchen, and you should require that they wear shoes that offer good traction. For more tips on preventing occupational injuries, read, "How to Prevent Workers’ Comp Claims."
- Don't overlook everyday dangers. As a small-business owner, you and your employees probably handle of lot of maintenance work yourselves. That means cleaning solutions, heights, and clutter can all become possible health hazards if the appropriate safety measures aren't taken. Be sure your employees know how to use cleaning solutions and ladders. Keep toxic substances properly stored, and make sure your building is ventilated.
- Don't forget to enforce safety protocol. Create written safety policies that outline how to avoid potential obstacles and injuries. Make sure your policies are in line with OSHA guidelines. For example, your policy may detail how to…
- Store heavy objects (usually, at waist-level to aid in proper lifting procedures and to avoid items falling on employees).
- Store materials in easy-to-reach places.
- Keep walkways clear of clutter and media cords.
Remember that when a workplace accident does happen, your Workers' Compensation Insurance can cover the employee's medical costs and replacement wages. Most local laws require you to keep a record of the accident for Workers' Comp filing purposes.
If you have 10 or fewer employees, you're usually not required to keep OSHA records for work accidents unless a federal department requires you to. When a workplace injury ends in a hospitalization or fatality, however, it must be reported to OSHA. To learn more, read the post, "What Is the Health and Safety Act?"