TUMWATER — Blocked emergency exit routes, unsafe ladder use and improper stacking of merchandise are among the numerous safety hazards that have the Dollar Tree company facing one of the largest Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) fines ever issued.
The current citation and fine involve violations at a Vancouver, Washington, store at 6700 NE 162 Ave. A recent inspection resulted in several “repeat willful” and other violations for unsafe merchandise storage and handling, and obstructed exit routes.
The $503,200 fine is also related in part to L&I finding the same safety hazards at the store during multiple visits. The violations continued even after the company was informed by an L&I inspector of the safety hazards during earlier visits, and was provided specific instruction on how to improve employee safety at the store and avoid further violations.
“Even after multiple large fines, it appears this company has not gotten the message to ensure their safety and health system is working in every Washington store location,” said L&I Assistant Director Anne Soiza. “This fine is one of the largest we’ve issued and we will apply pressure to Dollar Tree until its leadership takes sustained, comprehensive steps to prevent serious hazards.”
Long history of safety issues
This is the third substantial L&I citation and fine involving Dollar Tree in just over a year. Since the beginning of 2017, L&I has completed 15 inspections at Dollar Tree stores after complaints and referrals about unsafe working conditions.
The Virginia-based company has dozens of stores throughout Washington. Prior to this most recent citation, Dollar Tree has been fined nearly $593,000 since 2013. Last year, a store in Bonney Lake was fined $166,000 for three willful violations, and a Kelso Dollar Tree was fined $140,000 for violations similar to the ones found at the Vancouver store in this recent inspection.
Unsafe storerooms equal unsafe employees
Dollar Tree’s corporate office controls inventory for local stores, and shipments arrive frequently. Challenges with too much inventory and not enough storage space lead to high stacks of boxes, often leaning over, which cause blocked and impeded pathways and other hazards.
Improperly stored merchandise can fall, resulting in serious injuries or death if the boxes strike employees or cause employees to fall, or if exits are blocked during an emergency. Lifting heavy boxes onto over-the-head stacks is also likely to cause strains and sprains or serious back injuries. In the Vancouver store, workers were also climbing on shelving units, which can result in falls.
The violations are not unique to Washington. Dollar Tree locations around the country have been cited for improper stacking of merchandise boxes, mostly in their storerooms, and for blocking exits or impeding pathways.
Dollar Tree considered a “Severe Violator”
The company has now been placed in L&I’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which means its stores are now subject to inspections at any time, among other things.
Dollar Tree has appealed this citation, and it could take several months for the appeals process to be completed.
Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.