A parcel service company in Sharonville, Ohio distribution center was penalized by OSHA with an amount of $208,603 for repeatedly putting workers at risk. OSHA inspectors determined that the risks involved obstruction of the emergency exits due to placement of a roller extension unloader device, accommodation of packages in aisles. Due to such negligence, the access routes at multiple facilities were reduced to just seven inches.
Be it compliance-wise or safety-wise, it is mandatory for industries to build emergency exits within the premises and ensure that they are well-maintained. Depending upon the size of the facility, the number of exits are determined to cater to an optimum exit plan.
OSHA defines the exit route as a ‘continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety’. The qualifications for an emergency exit are:
- Should be in a permanent location
- Location that is easily accessible
- Well-controlled and up-kept
- Can gather people in an emergency event
- Control is in-premise
While carrying out a site inspection, it is noted that the inspection of an exit route is sometimes, not taken seriously. Employees in industries deal with hazards like risk of a fire, chemical release or a similar disaster on a daily basis. If such an event sets in, the need to evacuate the premises quickly and safely arises to avoid any unsafe results.
Inspection of emergency exits helps to identify common escape-route problems, observes how it looks on a day-to-day basis and provides insights to overcome obstructions in the evacuation route. These issues can then be escalated to the concerned authorities and the management can resort to preventive measures, accordingly.
There are situations when moving objects or equipment such as forklifts, and other machineries block the exit path but they go unnoticed. Also, workers may have a practice of storing materials along the way as they are unaware of the after-effects of such actions. In such cases, inspections should embrace awareness to avoid potential implications in the near future.
Contextual factors should not be ignored and observations should be summarized succinctly. The inspection authority should ensure that the exit route has clear markings all along its lengths. Reflective paints on stairs, railings, and stairwell doors, bright arrows and battery-operated emergency lightning ensure that people can clearly find and distinguish the route in a dark or smoke.
A good housekeeping and uncluttered working conditions are essential to safety of all workers in both office and work areas. These settings are proven by orderly arrangements of all the devices, floors free from spillage, well-nested hoses and cords and adequate lightning. Early detections (inspections) and dedicated efforts in immediate actions are a key to protect workers during an emergency.
After an inspection, the inspectors should solidify the importance of ‘clear unobstructed path’ within the employees. Blockages and obstructions in the exit doors and routes can produce delay, confusion and panic in case of an emergency and act as a safety hazard. Management should help recreate worker habits, designate and train them to assist and in a safe, orderly and prompt evacuation of other employees. Employees should be responsible enough to report a serious hazard to higher authorities and can stress on carrying out an inspection in that area.
Since workplaces can change, industries should have ready-checklists of evacuation routes and going through them should be a part of their scheduled safety inspections. They can consider the use of software and mobile apps for inspection, where transforming the activities on the digital platform enable efficiency and transparency.
In high-risk environments, danger lurks within the periphery and the onus of ensuring safe conditions lies with the management and their employees. Disasters tend to arrive unsaid, but with inspections run on a principal level, one can embark on precautionary measures in advance.