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Today's OSHA violations reflect historic -- and preventable -- workplace problems

A refrigeration warehouse in Honolulu received a more than $251,000 OSHA fine today for 63 health and safety violations – three willful, 58 serious, and two other-than-serious.

Though it was a pretty routine (albeit pricey) OSHA citation, what stands out to us is the danger workers would have faced had OSHA not shown up.

For instance, among other violations, OSHA cited Unicold Corp. for 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.

If OSHA had not inspected this facility and there were a fire, it easily could have become a modern-day Triangle Fire disaster – with who knows how many fatalities.

Remember that in the Triangle fire, factory foremen had locked exit doors to prevent workers from taking breaks or stealing fabric. As a result, 146 garment workers perished in the fire.

"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."

More than a century later, some workplaces haven’t learned their lesson. You’d think that it would be common sense to ensure a safe escape route in the event of a fire – but some employers just do not think about protecting workers’ lives. This could-be tragedy is easily preventable.

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