Unicold Corp held to account for $197K H&S violations
By Jenny Eagle
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Unicold Corp has agreed to make dozens of health and safety improvements at its refrigerated food warehouse in Honolulu after an ongoing battle with the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for $197,000 fines in 2013.
A joint inspection by OSHA and Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Occupational Safety and Health Division found nearly every emergency exit door or route locked, sealed shut, blocked or impossible to use.
OSHA found the violations were a willful disregard of employee safety. Inspectors also identified hazards related to Unicold’s use of ammonia as a refrigerant.
“Unicold’s use of toxic chemicals such as ammonia created hazards, and placed workers in danger by blocking virtually every emergency exit to gain additional storage space,” said Barbara Goto, acting OSHA regional administrator, San Francisco. “This could have had devastating consequences in a building evacuation, which was a possibility.”
Anhydrous ammonia is used as a refrigerant at industrial facilities or warehouses and to produce agricultural fertilizer. A dangerous and corrosive compound, ammonia exposure even in small amounts can cause the eyes, nose and throat to burn. It can also lead to corneal burns or blindness and can cause immediate death.
After Unicold contested the citations, OSHA took all necessary actions to force the warehouse operator to remedy the situation. Its pursuit included two years of court filings before the company agreed to make changes and accept its financial penalties.