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March 01, 2023
Federal panel upholds Walmart’s OSHA citation

A federal panel affirmed that Walmart Inc. violated federal workplace safety standards at its warehouse in Johnstown, New York, when it failed to prevent stored merchandise from falling onto, and seriously injuring, an employee, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced February 24.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission concluded that OSHA correctly cited Walmart for failing to meet the agency’s safety standard for the storage of materials (29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.176(b)), which requires that items stored in tiers be stable and secure against sliding and collapse.

OSHA investigators responded to a report of a worker’s injury on February 25, 2017, and found that a warehouse worker suffered a long-term injury when the person’s head and neck were struck by a package that fell from storage racks above. Inspectors discovered that another employee operating a forklift in an adjacent aisle inadvertently struck the pallet on which the merchandise was stacked.

Walmart challenged OSHA’s findings, claiming the standard did not apply to the pallets the company used in its racking system. The commission initially vacated the citation in 2020, ruling that OSHA’s standard did not apply. After several years of litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the cited standard does apply to Walmart’s warehouse operations and directed the review commission to reconsider the company’s challenge.

The full commission has now affirmed OSHA’s citation and ordered Walmart to pay the proposed penalty of $10,864. The federal panel also ordered Walmart to abate the storage hazards within 6 months. OSHA had pushed for a 19-day abatement period. The distribution center’s general manager had testified that installing front-to-back cross bracing on the warehouse’s racks would take 6 months.

Walmart’s Johnstown distribution center processes between 45,000 and 50,000 pallets of merchandise a week to fill orders placed by the chain’s stores, according to the review commission. Pallets are stored on approximately 30-foot-high, back-to-back racks, with 1 pallet per rack level; each rack has 7 or 8 levels.

On February 25, 2017, an order filler at the Johnstown distribution center was retrieving items from a pick slot when a forklift was pulling a stocked pallet in an adjacent aisle and bumped a stocked pallet stored in the aisle where the order filler was working. The bumped pallet tipped into the space between the rack’s front and back beams, causing items on the pallet to spill out into the aisle and strike the order filler.

According to OSHA, Walmart employs about 2.3 million people worldwide, including nearly 1.6 million in the United States. Walmart has 60 days to appeal the commission’s decision.

Last year, OSHA initiated a regional emphasis program (REP) focused on warehouse operations in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The agency also has several REPs addressing compliance with its powered industrial trucks standard. Additionally, OSHA has a national emphasis program (NEP) for indoor and outdoor heat hazards, targeting several industries, including warehousing and storage.

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