warehouseAfter two years of litigation to correct dozens of hazards that might have had catastrophic effects on its workers and the surrounding community, Unicold Corp. has agreed to make health and safety improvements at its refrigerated food warehouse in Honolulu. The company will also end its fight against $197,000 in penalties assessed in 2013 by OSHA.

Energency exits sealed shut

A joint inspection by OSHA and Hawaii's Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Occupational Safety and Health Division found nearly every emergency exit door or route locked, sealed shut, blocked or impossible to use. OSHA found that the violations were a willful disregard of employee safety. Inspectors also identified hazards related to Unicold's use of ammonia as a refrigerant. In all, OSHA identified dozens of violations in February 2013.

"Unicold's use of toxic chemicals such as ammonia created hazards, and also placed workers in danger by blocking virtually every emergency exit to gain additional storage space," said Barbara Goto, acting OSHA regional administrator in San Francisco. "This could have had devastating consequences in a building evacuation, which was a possibility."

A dangerous and corrosive compound

Anhydrous ammonia is used as a refrigerant at industrial facilities or warehouses and to produce agricultural fertilizer. A dangerous and corrosive compound, ammonia exposure even in small amounts can cause the eyes, nose and throat to burn. It can also lead to corneal burns or blindness and can cause immediate death.

After Unicold contested the citations, OSHA took all the actions necessary to force the warehouse operator to remedy the serious violations it found. Its pursuit included two years of court filings before the company agreed to make changes and accept its financial penalties.

A potential death trap

"The department will not allow Unicold or other employers to allow dangerous conditions that put workers in a potential death trap," said Janet Herold, the department's regional solicitor in San Francisco. "Luck is the only reason that we are not investigating a multi-fatality disaster here. The agency will spend time and resources to protect workers and prevent the intolerable and unacceptable from happening."

The federal citations can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Unicold_Corporation_890724_0809_13.pdf*