Federal safety regulators as well as hotel employees are demanding improved safety protocols after a hotel worker was found deceased inside a walk-in freezer at the high-end Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta.
Authorities discovered the body of a 61-year-old female worker who spent an estimated 13 hours inside a freezer that was set to below minus 10 Fahrenheit. It’s not clear whether the hotel realized she was missing, but it wasn’t until her husband called the hotel to report that she had not returned home that her body was finally discovered.
Safety inspectors and union leaders now say these types of walk-in freezers need to have some type of standard alarm inside so that anyone who becomes stuck or hurt inside would be able to set off an alarm that would directly alert either hotel security or emergency services. Workers at the hotel are also proposing some type of “panic button” they could keep on them at all times in order to send out a signal in case of an emergency.
Every worker, the union leader says, deserves to go home at the end of their shift. This work-related death was a tragedy, in no small part because it was so easily preventable. Yet hotel leadership has yet to issue a response to these safety requests.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed $12,500 in fines. The agency also issued a series of recommendations for the hotel, which included taking the initiative to create a notification system that would allow communication for workers who enter or become trapped in walk-in freezers. Furthermore, the agency recommended the facility develop some type of protocol that would involve regularly checking in on workers throughout their shift.
In a brief statement, a hotel spokeswoman said the company plans to contest regulators’ conclusions and recommendations. Those recommendations, it should be noted, would apply to the hotel where this specific incident happened, rather than to the larger chain of hotels, which is global. In fact, the company’s parent firm was bought recently by the world’s biggest hotel company, Marriott International, for $13 billion.
Union representatives say the recommendations should apply to the industry as a whole and that companies should strive to keep workers safe. These kinds of incidents have the potential to occur in a variety of workplace settings, including food service, hospitality, airline catering, and gaming (all of which are represented by this same union).
The fatal incident occurred in March. Her husband grew concerned when she did not return from work on the morning after her overnight shift. The hotel manager combed through security video and saw footage of her entering the walk-in freezer. She never left.
A spokeswoman for the hotel indicated that two days before the accident, the door to that particular freezer was tested some 30 times, and each time, the door properly opened. However, when the door was inspected again a month after the incident, it malfunctioned. A hotel worker and an OSHA inspector allowed the door to close and were themselves trapped inside. They had to pound on the door to alert those outside to let them out.
Workers’ compensation death benefits would likely be available to her husband in the wake of this tragedy.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Hotel workers seek new safety measures after freezer death, Sept. 29, 2016, By Jeff Martin, Associated Press
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