Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Lessons (Still) Unlearned: Locked Fire Escapes

Last week was the 13th anniversary of the fire in a chicken processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. A grease fire started on a chicken fryer and spread quickly inside the Imperial Foods Products building. Twenty-five Imperial employees died and fifty-six were injured in the blaze as workers tried desperately to escape the smoke and flames, clawing at exit doors that had been locked to keep the workers from stealing chickens.

And lets not forget the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, trapped behind locked fire escapes.

Lessons for all time?

Apparently not for Winn-Dixie supermarkets.

OSHA has cited a Mobile, Alabama, Winn Dixie store and proposed $74,000 in penalties for locking in night-shift employees with no means of exiting the building.
OSHA issued one alleged willful citation to the company, with a proposed penalty of $55,000, for failing to provide night-shift employees with an emergency exit. During a two-week period in January, three emergency exit doors were chained, locked, or barred with a steel rod. Employees were left without keys, tools or information on how to exit the building.

A willful citation is issued when an employer has shown intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

The agency issued one alleged repeat citation, with a proposed penalty of $12,500, for failing to keep exit routes unobstructed by material or equipment.
Not only couldn't employees exit the building, but "Medical assistance was delayed to an employee at this store because all exits and entrances were either locked or blocked," according to Ken Atha, OSHA's Mobile area director.

Wal-Mart has also been accused of locking workers in their stores at night in "an effort to keep the employees safe and keep the merchandize secure."