Dollar General has an OSHA problem

Photo: Getty Images/J. Michael Jones
Mar 04, 2022

Dollar General has emerged as one of the fastest growing retailers in the U.S. But as it has expanded its footprint, it has at times run afoul of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA recently fined two Dollar General stores, one in Mobile, AL, and one in Dalton, GA, for hazardous work conditions, according to Insurance Journal. The federal agency has cited the chain for similar complaints 55 times since 2016, with fines adding up to $3.6 million.

The list of violations from the most recent round of inspections, similar to previous ones, includes blocked exits and blocked electrical panels. In a statement, OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer said that the chain has a “long and extensive history of workplace safety violations” and “blatant and continued disregard for the safety of their employees.”

Dollar General management told Business Insider in response to the most recent inspections, it “took immediate action to address these issues and reiterated [its] expectations with these store teams.” The statement continued, “The safety of our employees is of paramount importance to us, and we take issue with any statement to the contrary. We will continue to work cooperatively with OSHA to resolve these matters.”

Dollar General’s alleged disregard for worker safety comes at a time when labor concerns are more a part of the public dialogue in the U.S. than at any time in recent memory.

Starbucks, REI and now even Amazon have begun facing efforts by workers to unionize, Business Insider reported. Other chains like Target and Costco have touted major pay increases to employees after decades of wage stagnation.

The OSHA fines also come at a time when business has been booming for Dollar General. Despite concerns about the short-term future of physical retail during the height of the pandemic, the chain continued its plans for a huge nationwide expansion. Dollar General’s number of store openings in 2021 was projected to make up about one-third of the total brick-and-mortar store openings in the country.

Dollar General also plans to have 1,000 of its new suburban woman-focused Popshelf stores in operation by 2025.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are the number and types of issues found by OSHA at Dollar General common throughout retail or an outlier? What should Dollar General be doing to reduce such violations under law?

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"Dollar General has been on a roll for some time now and has emerged as a small format innovator. It’s time to invest in employee safety and wellbeing."

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10 Comments on "Dollar General has an OSHA problem"

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Dr. Stephen Needel

I would think most of these are stupid violations, in the sense that they should be easy to avoid. Put up a sign on the exit doors that says “DO NOT BLOCK THIS DOOR.” Same for the electrical panel – make a big sign to stick on the panel door. Then tell managers that if they can’t follow these simple rules, they’ll be looking for a new job.

Carol Spieckerman

I look at all of this differently after reading a July 2020 article in the New Yorker, The True Cost of Dollar Stores, which exposed the many perils of bare-bones retailing at scale. Dollar General has been on a roll for some time now and has emerged as a small format innovator. It’s time to invest in employee safety and wellbeing.

Bob Phibbs

And let’s not forget Family Dollar, that has a rat problem which shut down stores. We have a couple of these in upstate New York, often with one person coverage and tons of boxes in the aisle – it is a mess. The New York Times featured Dollar General last fall with burnout for workers working 70 hrs a week and more. When Apple and Starbucks workers are working to join unions I can’t imagine Dollar General isn’t on their radar for all these reasons. These violations are due to a company without enough eyes on the stores and processes to ensure compliance. You don’t go cheap with leadership.

Gary Sankary

There are over 17,000 Dollar General stores in the United States. The company runs on extremely thin margins. I have no doubt that in any given store there are going to be issues. I also have no doubt that Dollar General is sincere in their statement that employee health and safety are paramount. The gap between those positions is store execution. Given the number of stores and store team members, Dollar General should focus on district level management to insure that standards are met and store expectations are clear and enforced.

Gene Detroyer

It first strikes me that 55 citations in 17,000 stores in five years isn’t such a big deal. That performance is an “A” in anyone’s grading system.

However if just one of those situations (i.e. a blocked emergency exit) causes injury or death it is a very big deal.

The reaction to fixing the problem is better training of employees, particularly the managers and their assistants. But more important to making that work is constant communication. Assuming safety is part of the on-boarding process, I wonder how many employees remember three years, five years, or even 10 years later.

And yes this is a challenge for all large retail entities. The management of these types of operations for any function is challenging. Even Starbucks had to retrain all its baristas several years ago because the quality became so uneven.

Scott Norris

Let’s consider who was minding the store federally most of that time, and ask if OSHA leadership was doing its job – the low number of citations isn’t so much an “A” grade for Dollar General as it is an “F” for those who are supposed to be keeping staff and shoppers safe. I was on a toy safety webinar a couple days ago, and the U.S. Government official there made it clear there’s a new sheriff in town.

Gene Detroyer

I am glad there is that new sheriff. As I said, if just one of those situations (i.e. a blocked emergency exit) causes injury or death it is a very big deal.

Jeff Weidauer

The growth of the dollar format, and Dollar General specifically, has been phenomenal. But it’s unrealistic to assume that adding hundreds of stores each year doesn’t come with a lot of corner-cutting. Employees are just another asset: portable and replaceable. Let’s hope that it won’t take a major incident to get DG and its peers to take the well-being of its most valuable assets seriously.

Craig Sundstrom

Let’s see, currently ~ 18K stores x 6 years, and so about 100K store/years/55 violation. An average store has a violation every 2000 years.

One doesn’t want to be cavalier, and these were only citations, not the actual prevalence (which is likely higher), but this doesn’t strike me as “a problem”. OTC, I think most retailers would struggle to do as well.

Ananda Chakravarty

Common to many retailers, especially small format, low margin retailers, especially those with 1-2 employees in the store at a time, it can easily miss some of OSHA’s requirements. The employee(s) are manning the register, stocking/restocking, receiving, and more. It becomes impractical without more employees, space, and organization to clean up the electrical panel or emergency door when the break room is really a stock room.

Best way for DG to change this scenario is to hire more folks and put in place training guidelines more regularly. That said, OSHA’s $3.6MM fines for a $27B company, are no more than a slap on the wrist if even that. About 10 instances per year out of 17,000 stores will always leak through and doesn’t sound as if it’s a major issue for DG.

"Dollar General has been on a roll for some time now and has emerged as a small format innovator. It’s time to invest in employee safety and wellbeing."

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