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Employees locked in, safety locked out

October 3, 2011

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It’s not unheard of for OSHA to cite an employer a few thousand dollars for safety violations. But how often does OSHA cite an employer accused of locking workers inside a building?

Night-shift employees working at Fine Fare Supermarkets in Brooklyn were kept locked inside the building while on duty, according to Kay Gee, OSHA’s area director based in Manhattan:

“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; that is completely unacceptable.”

When I first read the OSHA press release about the allegations, I laughed. Not because it was funny (it clearly isn’t), but because I was in disbelief. It’s hard to comprehend that something like this could still happen in the United States. But it can, and it does. It happened 20 years ago, and the end result was 25 workers at a North Carolina chicken plant dying in a fire they couldn’t escape because of locked doors.

Instances such as what happened in Brooklyn and North Carolina were supposed to have stopped following the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire 100 years ago. But they didn’t, because despite so many other companies and industries making huge strides in improving worker health and safety, some employers still regard their workers as disposable commodities.

The workers at Fine Fare Supermarkets are fortunate they were spared such an end.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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