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Freezers can be employee death traps

Back in March, a 61-year-old woman was found in a walk-in freezer at the hotel where she worked. She had been trapped for 13 hours. Her eyes and her head were frozen solid. The skin on her knuckles, according to her husband's complaint in a lawsuit against the hotel, had been worn away as she knocked, desperate to get out.

Federal records show that a handful of workers have died this way in the last 15 years. Some were overcome with lethal fumes and others froze. However, the government isn't likely to come up with regulations that specifically deal with freezers. Broader rules, such as employers making sure exits are available, are more likely.

In another tragedy, a 47-year-old man died from breathing carbon dioxide fumes produced from dry ice kept in the freezer of a cafe. The man, who was the cafe's owner and chef, had no release mechanism that would open the freezer door.

A 55-year-old woman died when she was locked inside a freezer at a lodge. The University of Pennsylvania's director of the Penn Program on Regulation said, "That one really struck me as a terrible way to go."

The lady who died in March was not the first person to be trapped in the same freezer. Several months before, another employee was trapped inside when the release mechanism failed.

Thirty tests were done after the woman died in March by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the medical examiner and an equipment servicing company. The door opened as it was supposed to each time. Three weeks later, though, two people were trapped inside during a follow-up inspection. The hotel where the woman died has been fined $12,000.

You should be safe at work, no matter what kind of work you do. If you are injured or killed, workers' compensation is available to help with your financial needs or to provide a death benefit to your family. If there are difficulties with your claim or your family's claim, an experienced attorney can help.

Source: The Vindicator, "Trapped: Deaths inside freezers can be prevented, but how?," The Associated Press, Oct. 30, 2016

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