Safety and OSHA News

‘Death trap’ warehouse agrees to pay $197K in OSHA fines

The owner of a facility OSHA called “a potential death trap,” has agreed to pay fines and upgrade its facility, two years after the agency found nearly every emergency exit door in the warehouse wasn’t usable. 

Unicold Corp. has ended 18 months of legal wrangling with OSHA over a 2013 inspection in which 63 violations (3 willful, 58 serious, two other-than-serious) were issued for a total of $251,330.

The company has now agreed to pay $196,700 (a 22% reduction) for 31 violations: 3 willful, 27 serious and one other-than-serious. Unicold says it will make health and safety improvements covering dozens of hazards at its refrigerated food warehouse in Honolulu.

OSHA says workers were placed in danger because Unicold locked, sealed shut or blocked virtually every emergency exit to gain additional storage space.

“Luck is the only reason that we are not investigating a multi-fatality disaster here,” said Janet Herold, a regional solicitor for OSHA.

Among the violations:

  • Employees weren’t able to open 13 exit route doors from the inside at all times without keys, tools or special knowledge (willful, $56,000)
  • Exit routes weren’t free and unobstructed; materials or equipment were placed, either permanently or temporarily, within the exit route (willful, $56,000), and
  • Unicold didn’t develop and implement a hearing monitoring program for employees working in the engine rooms where noise levels exceeded 95 decibels (serious).

Inspectors also identified hazards related to Unicold’s use of ammonia as a refrigerant. 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.

The investigation was conducted jointly by federal and Hawaii OSHAs. The inspections were conducted under OSHA’s National Emphasis Program for facilities with highly hazardous chemicals (anhydrous ammonia used in refrigeration qualifies).

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