Last year, a hotel worker tragically lost her life after becoming trapped in a walk-in freezer at the hotel where she worked. Although hotel management claimed that the freezer door was functioning properly at the time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) discovered upon a later inspection that the release button on the inside of the freezer had malfunctioned. The hotel was fined and ordered to devise a plan that would prevent similar accidents in the future, but this provided little solace to the woman’s grieving family. If you were injured on the job, it is important to contact an experienced Atlanta workers’ compensation attorney who can help protect the interests of you and your loved ones.
Walk-In Freezer Risks
Although they are rare, instances of workers sustaining an injury or losing their lives as a result of being locked in a freezer do occur. These types of accidents are extremely dangerous, especially if the trapped employee is unable to call for help or must wait until the next day for aid. Obviously, victims are primarily at-risk of suffering from exposure to cold. Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops significantly below the normal level of 98.6 degrees fahrenheit. There are three basic levels of hypothermia:
- Mild hypothermia, which occurs when the core body temperature lowers to between 93.2 degrees and 96.8 degrees fahrenheit;
- Moderate hypothermia, which begins to take place when the core body temperature drops to between 73.4 degrees and 89.6 degrees fahrenheit; and
- Severe or profound hypothermia, which takes place when the core body temperature drops to between 53.6 degrees and 68 degrees fahrenheit.
A person suffering from hypothermia will usually begin to feel lethargic and fatigued well before reaching the severe hypothermia stage. Victims may become confused and disoriented and may also exhibit slowed breathing or speech as well as a loss of feeling in the hands and feet. Once a person’s core temperature has reached severe hypothermia levels, he or she is at a high risk of cardiac arrest and death.
Workers could also suffer from breathing in carbon dioxide, which is emitted by dry ice and can be fatal. Exposure to refrigerants, which function as cooling agents and include chemicals, such as chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloride can also be dangerous. These types of chemicals are toxic in large quantities and can also lead to oxygen deficiency, especially when in a small place.
Even workers who are not trapped for a significant amount of time can sustain injuries. For instance, brief exposure can cause frostbite, which occurs when a person’s skin and underlying tissues are frozen. Generally, the lower the temperature in the freezer, the more quickly frostbite is likely to occur. Frostbite is also more likely to affect the extremities, such as the feet and hands, which can be especially dangerous for victims who are also suffering from hypothermia and so have lost feeling in those areas. Frostbite usually takes the form of reddened skin with gray or white patches, numbness, and blisters.
Some walk-in freezers are negligently designed and so do not even have a release latch on the inside. This means that a person who accidentally let the door go while in the freezer would have no means of escape. In other cases, even when freezers are equipped with safety latches, the latches can become useless after freezing shut. For this reason, it is vital for employers to make routine inspections of walk-in freezers.
Although there is not a lot of data on methods of preventing walk-in freezer accidents, OSHA does recommend:
- Providing a panic bar or other means of exit inside the freezer; and
- Having an accessible exit besides the main door to the freezer.
Other experts suggest using motion sensors that can disable the freezer door whenever movement is detected inside or installing emergency buttons, than when pressed, will set off an alarm and notify nearby firefighters that someone is trapped inside. Some also argue for placing emergency phones inside freezers, which would allow victims to call for help. Unfortunately, many small businesses do not have the capital to invest in these types of improvements, leaving employees at-risk.
Even when a freezer has safety latches or a notification system, these methods can still fail, so workers who know that they will be entering a freezer should always let someone know where they’re going. Keeping a cellphone on their person at all times is also a good way to ensure that if the need arises, they will be able to call for help.
Because the effects of cold stress, hypothermia, and frostbite are so devastating, it is important for injured employees to seek benefits or settlement through the workers’ compensation program. Benefits can compensate an employee for medical costs, lost wages, and in some severe cases, permanent disability. Although many people are aware that employees can receive workers’ compensation when injured on the job, few realize that a worker’s surviving family members may also be able to collect compensation. Generally, the amount of benefits that a family member could receive is equal to two-thirds of the deceased worker’s wages, up to a weekly maximum of $575. Surviving spouses will receive payment for 400 weeks or until they reach the age of 65 years old, whichever provides the greater amount.
Contact us Today to Speak With an Experienced Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Exposure to extremely low temperatures can have devastating consequences. While many employees who are required to work outdoors in a cold climate are aware of these risks and can take steps to prevent injury, restaurant and hotel employees often do not expect to be faced with this type of life threatening situation. Employers who fail to ensure that safety latches and alarm systems are effective and up to code can and should be required to compensate employees who are injured as a result, so if you were injured on the job, please contact Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. by sending us a brief message or by initiating a live chat with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in Charlotte NC.