So, for quite some time now, the United States Labor Department has been running a program called the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
This initiative is aimed at companies that have unsafe working conditions, like manufacturers or construction firms that see a high number of injuries or fatalities.
Just recently, in September of 2022, the program was broadened to include any type of company that violates safety standards on a willful or repeat basis. As a result, Dollar General, one of the country’s fastest-growing retailers, was the first company to be added under the expanded scope of the program.
A White House official has shared data indicating that since January 2017, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has carried out inspections on over 270 Dollar General stores and identified 111 instances of workplace safety violations.
During that period, the agency has imposed more than $15.5 million in penalties. Some of the issues found include obstructed fire exits, and boxes of merchandise that clutter the aisles or are stacked dangerously high.
According to two anonymous federal officials, in some instances, inspectors have visited a store to demand that a hazard be rectified, only to find out later that the problem was still unresolved in a follow-up visit.
Despite the growing fines and criticism from worker advocates and left-leaning think tanks over wages that are some of the lowest in the retail and service industry, Dollar General continues to be a highly profitable organization that fills a void in rural areas and impoverished urban neighborhoods.
This is because there are often no other retailers selling inexpensive food and household staples in these areas.
However, the issue of safety at Dollar General runs much deeper than just a few rogue stores, as highlighted by federal officials in interviews.
The company’s business model depends on small box stores with high sales volumes, which are lightly staffed. This means that there are often not enough employees to unload delivery trucks and immediately stock the shelves. Consequently, inventory may be left in the aisles, creating hazards for both employees and customers.
Despite being a large company, the fines that Dollar General has paid so far are just a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars in sales generated every year. Until recently, the company has not been willing to engage with OSHA on resolving these issues broadly and has contested many of the penalties.
Now that Dollar General has been included in the severe violators program, OSHA officials can inspect any store at random, even if the agency has not received a specific complaint about working conditions.
Some of Dollar General’s stores are among the 462 workplaces in that program.
It’s worth noting that a safe workplace for employees is a crucial factor that every company must prioritize.
As workers in the United States are entitled to certain protections by law, this administration will enforce that. Therefore, it is essential that Dollar General and Dollar Tree put in place appropriate safety measures to ensure that their employees and customers are safe.