OSHA Blasts N.Y. Supermarket for Locking Night Shift Workers in Building

"Our inspection found that all five exit doors were locked at night and could not be unlocked without a manager's permission. These workers were essentially caged and that is completely unacceptable," said Kay Gee, OSHA's area director based in Manhattan.

OSHA has cited a Brooklyn supermarket for alleged willful and serious violations of workplace safety standards after an inspection found that night shift employees were locked in and not allowed to leave the building without the employer's permission. Mermaid Meat Co., doing business as Fine Fare Supermarkets, faces a total of $62,300 in proposed fines.

"One hundred years ago in New York City, 146 workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Many of them died because they were locked in and unable to escape swiftly," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "A century later, we still find employers locking in their employees or otherwise obstructing emergency exit access. These are imminent danger situations, potential catastrophes in the making. Conditions from 1911 should not continue to exist in 2011."

"Our inspection found that all five exit doors were locked at night and could not be unlocked without a manager's permission. These workers were essentially caged and that is completely unacceptable," said Kay Gee, OSHA's area director based in Manhattan. "Employees must be able to exit the workplace swiftly in the event of a fire or other emergency. When they cannot do so, they face serious injury or death from burns and smoke inhalation."

OSHA standards require that employees be able to open an exit route door from inside at all times, without keys, tools, or special knowledge. A device such as a panic bar that locks only from the outside is permitted on exit doors. OSHA cited the company for one willful violation with a fine of $49,000 for the locked exits.

Four serious violations with $13,300 in fines involve obstructed exit routes as well as electrical and tripping hazards.

"One means of preventing hazards such as these is for employers to establish an injury and illness prevention program in which they work with their employees to identify and eliminate hazardous conditions," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York.

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