By James L. Curtis

On March 12, 2012 OSHA issued yet another six figure citation to a large retailer.  This time OSHA cited the Dollar Tree, Inc. for $121,000 in penalties, including two “Repeat” citations.  This comes on the heals of six figure OSHA citations to Wal-Mart, Inc., Sears, Walgreens, Lowe’s, DeMoulas Super Market and Publix.  Given the number of large citations recently issued by OSHA, the retail industry can no longer shrug them off as isolated incidents, but rather must view this as a concerted enforcement trend.

Significantly, the OSHA citations are often not the result of an injury or significant accident, but rather are often the result of fairly mundane safety hazards being cited by OSHA on numerous occasions at different facilities over time.  For example, the current Dollar Tree citations relate to blocked exits and unsafe stacking of materials.  These are not the types of hazards that typically result in significant injuries and historically have not resulted in significant citations and penalties.  According to OSHA, Dollar Tree had been cited for similar hazards at other facilities in 2008 and then again in 2010.

Based upon this enforcement trend, retailers can no longer view safety issues at their various facilities in a siloed fashion.  Rather, if safety issues have been identified at one facility they must be communicated throughout the organization so that all facilities can identify any correct similar hazards.

Retailers must also resist the urge to simply pay citations that carry a relatively modest penalty.  For years many retailers have treated such citations as a cost of doing business.  However, OSHA’s current trend makes clear that even minor citations can and will come back to haunt the company.  Accordingly, retailers must evaluate the merits of any OSHA citation it receives.  If your investigation reveals defects in the citation, retailers must pressure the OSHA Area Director to withdraw the citation at the informal conference and pursue a notice of contest if necessary.