The U.S. Labor Department has asked the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) to order a supermarket chain to comply with OSHA regulations involving fall and laceration hazards.
This case gained attention last year after reports that management at one store had taken an injured worker who fell 11 feet onto a concrete floor, put him in a wheelchair and left him on a receiving dock to wait for a relative to take him to the hospital.
OSHA filed the complaint against DeMoulas Super Markets, doing business as Market Basket, and the company’s 60+ stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The request for “enterprisewide relief” is based upon hazards OSHA found during inspections at Market Basket stores. The most recent inspection at stores in Rindge and Concord, NH, produced $589,200 in OSHA fines. The chain is contesting the fines.
The complaint says employees at multiple Market Basket stores were exposed to fall hazards from unguarded, open-sided work and storage areas, including storage lofts and the tops of produce coolers and freezers.
OSHA also has a second concern: protecting employees in the produce, deli and bakery departments from laceration hazards from knives and other cutting instruments by not conducting job hazard analyses that would have identified the need for hand protection. In 2006, after being cited by OSHA, the company agreed to complete job hazard analyses in all stores but failed to do so.
In a four-year period, employees at just two Market Basket stores sustained at least 40 recorded hand lacerations.
The chain has 20 days from receipt of the complaint to file an answer.
This is just the second time OSHA has sought enterprise relief from an employer. The first time was against the U.S. Postal Service in July 2010 for correction of electrical violations at 350 postal facilities. That matter is pending.
James Laboe, an attorney for Market Basket, told the Union Leader the company and OSHA have been in nonbinding arbitration because the proposed penalty exceeded $100,000. Laboe says the company wants to find common ground with OSHA, “but we’re just not there yet.”
Regarding the request for an order from OSHRC, Laboe said, “I do not think that the Occupational Safety and Health Act authorizes this kind of broad relief, but it’s never been tested before. It would be a case of first impression if we end up continuing to dispute that issue.”