Sunday, July 7, 2013

OSHA stepping up focus on exit routes

Picture of locked exit in Hamlet
(Raleigh News & Observer)
In the wake of a devastating poultry plant fire in China which killed 121 workers, OSHA is raising awareness of the issue of building exits and asking inspectors to pay closer attention to this issue during inspection visits.

Writing for SHRM Online, Roy Maurer reports OSHA responded to the June fire in China by issuing a memorandum directly inspectors to pay close attention to building exits. Inspectors are asked to ensure exits are not obstructed, not locked and provided in adequate number.
There's a tragic history of food plant fire tragedy here in the Carolinas as well. In 1991, a food processing plant fire in Hamlet, NC in 1991 killed 25 workers and injured 55 others. As with the China fire, exit doors were found to be locked by management, a clear violation of the rules.
In both the Hamlet and China fires, it wasn't just management which was believed to have a role. In both cases, inspectors were accused of dropping the ball on inspections. In response to the Hamlet fire, the federal DOL gave North Carolina 90 days to make changes in its OSH laws and enforcement - which they did. In the wake of the China fire, 11 public officials, including building and fire officials, face criminal charges, along with company management.
Lack of fire safety training and fire-fighting equipment were also believed  to have contributed to the China tragedy.
From these moves, it seems federal OSHA is working to keep ahead of the exits issue and is making sure state OSH agencies are stepping up their game as well. Those who've dealt with state-level OSH and fire inspectors in the Carolinas know firsthand the lessons of Hamlet haven't been forgotten, so if you don't watch your exits closely, you can bet OSHA will.

Check your exits for blockages and visibility and train your workers on expectations for keeping exits clear. It's a regular safety discussion topic for my employees and it's not hard to do.


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