The New York Times reports that since 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) unit of the US Department of Labor "has inspected more than 270 Dollar General stores and found 111 instances of workplace safety violations. The agency has also imposed more than $15.5 million in penalties during that period, according to data provided by a White House official.
"OSHA inspectors have found issues such as obstructed fire exits and boxes of merchandise cluttering the aisles or stacked precariously high.
"In some cases, federal inspectors have gone into a store to demand that a hazard be fixed, only to find in a follow-up visit that the problem was still there, according to two federal officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the violations.
"The fines represent a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars in sales that Dollar General generates every year. And until recently, the officials said, the company was not willing to engage with OSHA about resolving these issues broadly, and it has contested many of the penalties."
“What we have found time and time again at Dollar General stores is that there are obvious, preventable hazards that are putting workers at risk,” Douglas L. Parker, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, tells the Times.
Dollar General responds: "We regularly review and refine our safety programs, and reinforce them through training, ongoing communication, recognition and accountability … When we learn of situations where we have failed to live up to this commitment, we work to timely address the issue and ensure that the company’s expectations regarding safety are clearly communicated, understood and implemented."
The Times goes on: "The safety issues go deeper than a few rogue stores, federal officials said in interviews. Dollar General’s business model relies on lightly staffed and relatively small box stores with high sales volume. Often there are not enough employees to unload a delivery truck and immediately stock the shelves, Mr. Parker said. That means inventory can linger in the aisles, creating hazards for employees and customers."
The bottom line: OSHA has expanded its Severe Violator Enforcement Program "to include any type of company that willfully or repeatedly violated safety standards. The first to be added under the program’s expanded scope: Dollar General."
- KC's View:
The Times story makes the point that Dollar General's entire business model seems to depend on being a fast-growing, lightly staffed entity where it costs less to pay the fines than to actually address the issues being raised by OSHA.
Assuming that the charges are both legitimate and provable, it'd be nice of regulations actually had some teeth. Like fines that are so onerous that they are not so easy to simply pay and move on. Like the ability to post obvious signage attesting to individual stores' safety violations. And maybe even force the closure of stores that are severe and repeat violators.
Are we going to wait for a store to have a fire, and for people to die because they can't access a fire exit? And if that happens, will we allow high priced lawyers and lobbyists to help this company - or any company - avoid legal consequences? Because that's the road we're headed down.
If stores are not willing to address safety issues because it is the right and responsible thing to do, then regulators ought to be able to force them to deal with these issues because it is too expensive, too inconvenient, and too negative for their brand image not to.