Inspectors have found 111 workplace safety violations in visits to more than 270 Dollar General stores since January 2017. In that time, the company has been fined more than $15.5 million by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That record has landed the retailer in the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, reserved for companies accused of willfully or repeatedly violating safety standards, the New York Times reports. It's a step that until now was taken for construction companies or manufacturers that rank high in worker injuries or deaths. "What we have found time and time again at Dollar General stores is that there are obvious, preventable hazards that are putting workers at risk," said Douglas Parker of OSHA.
Examples of violations in stores cited by the agency include obstructed fire exits and boxes of merchandise sitting in aisles or stacked high. OSHA officials told the Times follow-up visits sometimes find the problems haven't been fixed. The new designation means Dollar General stores now are subject to inspection at random, per CNBC; a complaint isn't required. The company said it has safety programs that include training and accountability. "When we learn of situations where we have failed to live up to this commitment," a Dollar General spokesperson said, "we work to address the issue." Most of the federal penalties have come under the Biden administration, which has increased OSHA's inspection staff by 20%.
Dollar General has begun talks on a settlement with the agency, which says the company has resisted until now, fighting many of the penalties imposed. The fines are a drop in the bucket compared with Dollar General's billions in annual sales. Federal officials said the problem is baked into the company's business model: small stores with few employees and high sales volume. Parker said there's sometimes no one to unload deliveries, which end up dropped in aisles. The rival Dollar Tree has been hit with nearly as many violations and fines in roughly the same period. Family Dollar, which is owned by Dollar Tree, has racked up 54 violations and fines totaling $5 million. The parent company is in talks with OSHA about its safety plan, officials said. (Read more workplace safety stories.)