AutoZone is learning the hard way that some zones are worth staying out of. A few weeks back, the auto parts retailer entered the atone zone by agreeing to an $11 million settlement with California Attorney General’s Office.

The AG claimed that the company’s facilities illegally disposed of hazardous waste across 45 California counties. Allegedly, 5 million hazardous waste items—including motor oil, oil filters, batteries, electronics, and aerosol cans—were discarded through regular trash.

Perhaps AutoZone forgot that hazardous waste belongs in a zone of its own. Or maybe the company’s environmental health and safety personnel simply zoned out.

Okay, enough “zone” groaners. What stands out about the AutoZone settlement, aside from the massive payout, is the extent of the alleged violations. The lawsuit arose from a 2-year-plus investigation that included 56 inspections of dumpster bins at 49 AutoZone stores.

And hazardous waste is only one half of the story—regulators claim to have found improperly disposed confidential consumer information as well.

What can other employers learn from this case?
Here are a few takeaways:

    • Compliance needs to happen everywhere you do business.
      AutoZone operates about 600 stores, along with a distribution center. The 49 locations involved in these allegations are a comparatively small fraction of the total number. As the settlement costs indicate, however, non-compliance carries a steep price anywhere it occurs. Be sure that specialized trash receptacles for hazardous waste are available to all workers.
    • Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
      In addition to staying on top of EHS compliance, companies must provide their workforces with proper training and support. One unlawful action can expose the entire business. Ensure all employees are trained on the correct hazardous waste disposal methods.
    • Confidential consumer information must be protected throughout its lifecycle.
      An organization’s responsibility to secure sensitive information doesn’t end when that information is no longer necessary. Dispose of all confidential consumer information in a lawful manner, or expect to pay the price later.

Safeguard your bottom line by taking a proactive approach to EHS issues. KPA can help your organization get in the zone—the automated workforce compliance zone. Start by downloading KPA’s comprehensive EHS Checklist.

TOBY GRAHAMToby Graham manages the marketing communications team at KPA. She’s on a quest to help people tell clear stories that their audience can relate to.