By Adam R. YoungDaniel R. Birnbaum, James L. Curtis, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Highlighting the current administration’s focus on using press releases to assure workplace health and safety regulations are being followed, OSHA announced that a major retailer who has allegedly continued to expose workers to blocked exit routes is being cited for hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines, and over $15 million in fines since 2017.

In a national news release issued earlier this month, OSHA highlighted the OSHA history of a major retailer, including alleged deficiencies related to blocked exit routes.  OSHA announced that “since 2017, OSHA has issued more than $15 million in fines and cited Dollar General Corp. for numerous willful, repeat and serious workplace safety violations related to unsafe conditions in facilities nationwide.”

In its press release, OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta accused the Company of putting profits before people, noting that “these violations are preventable, and failing to prevent them shows a blatant disregard for the workers on whom they depend to keep their stores operating.”

OSHA’s recent actions indicate three significant takeaways for employers.  First, OSHA has revitalized its use of press releases to bring public awareness of significant citations issued to employers, impacting customer relations, employee relations, and painting a target for aggressive third-party litigators, union organizers, and others with a litigious interest in a Company’s record of workplace safety.  Second, OSHA will continue to target employers with wide operations who may become repeat offenders.  As the cases demonstrate, such employers can quickly accumulate significant OSHA fines in a short period if OSHA believes a Company’s safety culture is deficient.  Finally, with regard to retailers who generally are in a less hazardous industry than other employers subject to OSHA inspections, OSHA will aggressively investigate and cite safety hazards such as blocked exit routes. 

To develop a strategy that reduces the risk of harmful press releases, potential repeat liability, and significant OSHA fines, employers should consult experienced OSHA counsel.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.