Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has entered into a corporate-wide settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor to improve safety and health conditions in all 2,857 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores under federal jurisdiction. The settlement, which resolves two enforcement cases that began in 2011, includes provisions for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer to enhance safety and health practices and training related to trash compactors, cleaning chemicals and hazard communications corporate-wide. The company also has agreed to pay a fine of $190,000, which is significantly less than the original proposed fine of $365,500 and a drop in the bucket for a company that posted fiscal year 2013 sales of approximately $466 billion.

In February 2012, OSHA cited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for a total of 24 alleged repeat and serious violations of workplace safety and health standards at its supercenter store No. 2859 in Rochester, N.Y. Two separate inspections stemming from a complaint were conducted at the Wal-Mart supercenter store: A safety inspection was initiated on Aug. 2, 2011, and a health inspection began Aug. 17, 2011.

At the time the citations were issued, Arthur Dube, OSHA’s area director in Buffalo, commented, “The sizable fines proposed here reflect not only the seriousness of these conditions but the fact that several of them are substantially similar to hazards identified at nine other Wal-Mart locations in New York and eight other states. This situation is unacceptable. A corporate employer must take effective and proactive steps to assess, correct and prevent the recurrence of hazards at all of its locations.”

"We have long-standing policies and training requirements in our stores designed to ensure the safety of our associates," countered Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove on August 7.

The 2011 Rochester inspections led OSHA to identify fall hazards, obstructed exit routes, an absence of lockout/tagout procedures for energy sources that would allow employees to safely perform maintenance on a compactor, an unguarded grinder, no training for employees using personal protective equipment, a lack of eye and face protection and a lack of information and training on hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

OSHA had cited Wal-Mart for similar hazards between 2008 and 2010 at workplaces in South Mobile, Ala.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Plant City, Fla.; Rincon, Ga.; Jerseyville, Ill.; Festus, Mo.; Queensbury, N.Y.; Fargo, N.D.; and Tulsa, Okla.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels said Aug. 7 that the settlement “will help to keep thousands of exposed Wal-Mart workers safe and healthy on the job,” adding, “We hope this sends a strong message that the law requires employers to provide safe working conditions, and OSHA will use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that all employers follow the law.”

Under the settlement, trash compactors must remain locked while not in use, and may not be operated except under the supervision of a trained manager or other trained, designated monitor. Wal-Mart also agreed to improve its hazard communications training, and, for cleaning chemicals, will enhance its procedures to ensure that employees do not handle undiluted chemicals. Also, the company must ensure that a protective protocol is in place in case of any malfunctions with a store’s cleaning chemicals dispensing equipment. Wal-Mart will ensure employees are trained on the new procedures in a language, format, and vocabulary that the workers can understand. 

For the safety citations pertinent to the corporate-wide trash compactor abatement, the settlement affirms one repeat lockout/tagout citation, two serious lockout/tagout citations, two serious confined space citations and one serious machine guarding citation.

For the health citations pertinent to the corporate-wide cleaning chemical and hazard communication abatement, the settlement affirms two serious citations related to personal protective equipment and two serious hazard communication citations.

For the citations not related to the corporate-wide abatement, citations affirmed in the settlement include one repeat electrical hazard citation, one serious citation for obstructed exit routes, two serious machine guarding citations, one repeat other-than-serious platform fall hazard citation, and 11 serious bloodborne pathogens citations.

“While this settlement with the Labor Department is progress, there are still several areas we’re concerned about regarding health and safety among Wal-Mart workers and suppliers,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “From its overreliance on temporary labor to its failure to prevent workplace violence or sign an international labor accord to improve working conditions in Bangladesh, Wal-Mart continues to jeopardize workers’ safety both here and abroad.”

A summary of the settlement agreement between Wal-Mart and OSHA will be posted in each affected store.