Last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an inspection at a Duane Reade store located on 6th Avenue in Manhattan. The inspection found that the store's employees would not have been able to exit the store quickly and safely in the event of an emergency, or a fire.
As a result of the inspection, OSHA cited the store for serious violations of workplace safety standards; the retailer was facing in excess of $77,400 in proposed fines.
The inspectors found that three of the store's emergency exits in the basement were physically blocked by various boxes, crates, garbage bags, and merchandise that had been strewn about in aisles and passageways. One exit was not marked, and the emergency exit lights were not illuminated for employees or customers.
"An exit route should not be an obstacle course. Seconds count during a fire or other emergency. These obstructions steal away precious moments employees could use to save themselves," said Kay Gee, OSHA's area director in Manhattan.
"This is especially troubling because we cited Duane Reade in 2013 for similar hazards at its 598 Broadway store in Lower Manhattan."
An employee at the Duane Reade Inc. Store at 1150 6th Avenue complained about the obstructed exits, prompting the OSHA inspection. In addition to the blocked exits, the inspectors found boxes of merchandise and inventory in one of the store's stockrooms that were dangerously stacked in piles reaching as high as 12 feet. These stacks could easily tip or collapse, striking or crushing store employees.
Under OSHA's standards, a "serious violation" occurs when there is a hazardous condition that has a high probability of causing serious physical harm or death, and the employer should have known about it.
Duane Reade is a subsidiary of Walgreen Co., there are 250 pharmacies and convenient stores in the New York City area. The store had 15 days from the receipt of its citations to comply, meet with OSHA's area director, or contest the agency's findings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
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