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Dangers of walk-in freezers in the workplace

Considering the possibility of perishing inside the subzero conditions of a walk-in freezer may be the last thing anybody ever considers, until they’re inside one, alone, and the safety latch that has always worked in the past is not working.  While certainly not a common occurrence, people do die from walk-in freezer accidents. Usually, they are alone and unable to summon help when a safety mechanism fails, trapping them inside the unforgiving cold with no way of getting anybody’s attention and nobody coming to help them until the place of business opens the following morning.

The conditions inside a walk-in freezer are obviously dangerous, but for more reasons than just the cold. Some freezer units utilize dry ice, which gives off carbon dioxide. If the exposure lasts long enough, breathing in too much carbon dioxide can be fatal. It is always possible, though, for a slow and torturous freezing death to occur.

How can this happen in today’s safety-conscious society?

The most recent walk-in freezer incident occurred in March of 2016, when a 61-year-old employee of a hotel in Atlanta found herself trapped and unable to get anyone’s attention. She was found frozen solid the next morning.  Since this tragedy is such an inconsistent and rare occurrence, there is no serious dialogue about how to better prevent these events. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does mention two standards on the subject:

  • Provide a panic bar or other means of exit inside the freezer in the event that an employee is inadvertently trapped.
  • Always have an accessible exit from a walk-in freezer besides the main door.

Despite these common sense measures, accidents and malfunctions happen. Safety latches can fail and notification systems such as bells, electronic alarms and closed-circuit telephones can go unheard. More comprehensive safety systems might cost a lot of money, so smaller businesses won’t shell out the money to protect against such an unlikely event.

The best way to protect yourself, if you are an employee that must spend time in a walk-in freezer, is to always let somebody know when you’re going to be inside of one, and have them check up on you with a text message or phone call when you’re supposed to be clocked out of work. Alternatively, if cell service isn’t an issue, always keep your phone on you when going into a freezer, so you may call somebody for help.

These deaths are almost always preventable

Nobody should ever go through the pain of learning their loved one died in a freezer accident. There are multiple safeguards that businesses can put in place to make sure nobody gets left in the cold unknowingly and without recourse. Businesses should always make sure their safety fallbacks are in working condition and that there is a notification system of some kind that can reach somebody on the outside, just in case.

At the heart of nearly every one of these tragedies is some form of negligence. Whether a business negligently failed to provide employees with any safeguards against getting trapped, or a business negligently failed to provide an escape route from the freezer, they would be liable for such an incident.  At Altman & Altman LLP, we have over 40 years of experience litigating a wide range of negligence cases and fighting for the financial recompense of our clients. Losing somebody to a preventable death is a horrendous experience, and the last thing you need to deal with is the burden of a lawsuit or dealing with an insurance company dedicated to getting you the smallest settlement possible.

Our experienced team of legal professionals are standing by for a free consultation, and we don’t quit, or get paid, until we have secured a reasonable settlement or we emerge victorious in court. Call us today at 617-492-3000 or toll-free at 800-481-6199.  We are available 24/7.

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