OSHA Serious About Blocked Exit Routes

By Roy Maurer July 23, 2013

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced July 16, 2013, that two companies in the New York City area have been cited and fined for safety violations involving blocked emergency-exit routes, among other workplace hazards.

Just a month ago, on June 17, OSHA issued a national memorandum on exit routes, directing inspectors to carefully examine whether employers have provided and maintained an adequate number of exit routes from work areas and whether those routes are unobstructed, as well as to ensure that exit doors are not locked.

The agency described an exit route as a “continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety.”

The key elements that an employer must have in place to provide safe exit routes can be found here.

Emergency-Exit Doors Must Remain Closed

OSHA charged home-goods retailer Idea Nuova with 22 alleged violations of workplace safety standards at the company’s Manhattan and Brooklyn locations, from which the retailer faces $82,800 in proposed fines. Inspections began in response to complaints and covered the company’s warehouse, sales office and showroom facilities.

OSHA found a variety of violations at both locations, including obstructed exit routes, propped-open emergency-exit doors to enclosed stairways, blocked access to electrical panels and unmounted fire extinguishers.

“In the event of a fire, the open exit doors would allow an upward draft of air that could intensify and spread the fire,” OSHA explained. “This could potentially block employees’ egress and increase the possibility of employees trapped in a fire without the ability to exit the building.”

At the Manhattan site an emergency-exit door was stuck in its frame and had to be forced open, exit-route signs were missing, a restroom lacked hot running water, access to fire extinguishers were blocked, and employees hadn’t been trained to use fire extinguishers.

In Brooklyn, aisles were blocked, material was stored too close to sprinkler heads, floor holes were uncovered, workers were exposed to live electrical parts, and powered industrial truck operators had not received required refresher training.

“Left uncorrected, the conditions found at these workplaces exposes employees to the hazards of fire, electric shock, struck-by injuries, and the inability to exit swiftly and safely in the event of a fire or other emergency,” said Kay Gee, OSHA’s area director for Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Multiple Worksites and Repeat Citations

OSHA also cited a Duane Reade pharmacy and convenience store in lower Manhattan for exit-access and fire-safety hazards.

Because the agency discovered similar hazards at another Duane Reade location in 2008, it issued repeat citations, which come with $71,500 in proposed fines. A repeat violation exists when an employer has previously been cited for the same or a similar violation at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the past five years.

“Finding hazards at one location is of serious concern; hazards replicated at an employer’s other worksites indicates a disturbing pattern,” said Gee. “Duane Reade must take effective steps to identify and eliminate such hazards—not just here but at all its stores. It’s a wise investment in the safety and well-being of company workers that all employers with multiple worksites should undertake.”

OSHA’s inspection of the pharmacy and convenience store was prompted by a complaint about blocked exits. Inspectors found that an emergency-exit door, sprinkler-system heads and an electrical panel in the store were either blocked or obstructed by piles of boxes and crates of merchandise.

“In the event of a fire or other emergency, these blockages would obstruct swift exits, negate the sprinklers’ function of extinguishing a fire and increase the potential of an electrical fire if workers could not access the panel to disconnect the power,” OSHA said.

Duane Reade and Idea Nuova have 15 business days from when they received the citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Related Articles:

OSHA: Exit Routes Are Mandatory, SHRM Online Safety & Security, June 2013

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