Honolulu food warehouse cited for 63 health, safety violations

Published On: Aug 12 2013 11:36:30 AM HST
Updated On: Aug 12 2013 07:18:32 PM HST

A Hawaii company faces more than a quarter of a million dollars in fines for allegedly blocking and locking 13 of its emergency exits.

HONOLULU -

Federal and state investigators have identified a total of 63 health and safety violations, at a refrigerated food warehouse in Honolulu occupied by Unicold Corp. and nine tenants.

The employers face $251,330 in total proposed fines following joint inspections conducted in February by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Occupational Safety and Health Division. The inspections were conducted under OSHA’s National Emphasis Program for facilities with highly hazardous chemicals.

The 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. The willful violations carry a proposed penalty totaling $112,000.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

"The employers’ shocking decision to seal exit doors and block emergency exit routes to gain additional storage space placed the workers in great jeopardy," said Galen Lemke, director of OSHA's Honolulu Area Office, who said that the blocked exits could have devastating results in the event of an ammonia leak from piping located throughout the facility. "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. We hope to never see such a tragedy again, in Hawaii, or anywhere."

"This enforcement effort is also reflective of how OSHA and HIOSH are working closely together to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for Hawaii’s workers," added Department of Labor and Industrial Relations director Dwight Takamine.

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. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The employer was also cited for two other-than-serious violations related to portable fire extinguishers. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA's area director or contest the findings to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The federal citations can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Unicold_Corporation_890724_0809_13.pdf

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742), the agency’s Honolulu office at 808-541-2680 or the HIOSH office at 808-586-9092.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

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