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Ignore safety issues, prepare to pay up

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Dollar Tree has had to give up some green following an OSHA investigation that uncovered a series of recurring safety issues that the discount retail chain failed to address until the authorities forced it to. Dollar Tree late last year agreed to settle 13 OSHA citations by paying fines totaling $825,000.

Under a two-year agreement, independent third-party inspectors may audit 50 of the chain’s more than 2,400 stores for health and safety issues. Dollar Tree must resolve any issues the inspections uncover within 21 days.  The company will internally monitor a cross-section of stores and provide a hotline so employees can anonymously report safety hazards.

Considering the size of the settlement, the main safety problem was laughably simple to address: Dollar Tree failed to keep exits clear of merchandise.

OSHA rules require all exit routes to be at least 28 inches wide, with merchandise properly stacked on all sides so exits are not blocked. Stores must have a plan for placing inventory deliveries so the exits are never blocked.

Promoting culture of safety

The breadth of the settlement agreement—with widespread compliance audits occurring nationwide—suggests that OSHA is trying to effect a real culture change at Dollar Tree.

That’s the safety approach you should take, too. When you assess your own workplace health and safety challenges, look beyond minimal compliance issues. Making changes just to pass inspections will not address ongoing safety concerns or poor practices that could lead to worker or customer injuries.

The key lies in promoting a safety-first attitude among managers and employees.  Ongoing training will keep health and safety issues on employees’ minds as they perform their daily tasks. A culture in which employees feel free to make suggestions to address safety problems will be better equipped to prevent workplace injuries.

Management training is critical. In many organizations—retailers like Dollar Tree, for example—a workplace safety focus can’t just come down from headquarters. It depends on local supervisors who know what the health and safety issues are, know how to address them and have the authority and means to do so.

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