OSHAA warehouse operator’s decision to seal exit doors and block emergency exit routes in order to gain additional storage space for hazardous materials “placed the workers in great jeopardy," said OSHA’s Galen Lemke, who pointed out that the blocked exits could have devastating results in the event of an ammonia leak from piping located throughout the facility.

That and other hazards at a refrigerated food warehouse in Honolulu occupied by Unicold Corp. and nine tenants earned the company a total of $251,330 in proposed fines. Investigations were conducted by OSHA (under the agency's National Emphasis Program for facilities with highly hazardous chemicals) as well as Hawaii's Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Occupational Safety and Health Division.

Doors locked from the outside

Willful violations include locked and sealed exit doors, failure to keep exit routes free and unobstructed and failure to label exit routes and post signs clearly indicating the route to the nearest exit. Inspectors found 13 of the exit doors were locked from the outside and sealed shut, and that workers could not open or reach emergency exit doors because storage racks filled with pallets of products blocked the doors.

"Employers must follow safety and health rules to prevent horrific tragedies, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911 when 146 workers died, unable to escape due to blocked exits,” said Lemke. “We hope to never see such a tragedy again, in Hawaii, or anywhere."

Process safety management violations

Fifty-eight serious violations relate to hazards associated with process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals in the ammonia refrigeration system; missing stair railings; unguarded floor openings on stairway platforms; deficiencies in the company's plan for the response to workplace emergencies; and inadequate electrical equipment.

The employer was also cited for two other-than-serious violations related to portable fire extinguishers.