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What to do when an employer impedes your escape route

If you have been frequenting our website, you know that employers are required to promote a safe working environment, whether the safeguards installed encourage mental or physical security. Laws protect employees from discrimination and harassment. Other agencies review workplace conditions to prevent employees from suffering sickness, injury or death.

In many cases, when people hear about a worksite accident, they think about places of work where employees engage with heavy machinery, involved in dangerous tasks on an construction site, in a manufacturing plant or at a warehouse. A recent situation reveals that workplace dangers can lurk in even the most benign environment, putting employees and customers in danger.

Responding to employee concerns, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted an on-site review of the Dollar General store in Union Township. The inspection led agents to fine the business for violating safety standards. In documenting the scene, the government agent noted "an emergency exit door barricaded with a metal bar, blocked electrical panels and a cluttered hallway between an employee area and an emergency exit route." While the clutter may be explained away by slovenly working conditions, the physical barrier placed in the emergency door points to a willful obstruction of the business's point of egress.

Although the Dollar General store was fined $215,000 for the safety violations, the value attached to the lives of employees and customers saved in opening access to an exit far exceeds the penalty assessed. Even though this infraction was documented in Pennsylvania, the takeaway from this event crosses state lines: maintaining a safe workplace can promote safety for daily visitors as well as life-long employees. Employees have recourse should they feel their worksite contains hazards, whether those risks involve shoddy scaffolding or blocked exits.

Employees who feel that their welfare is compromised by dangerous working conditions are encouraged to discuss their options with a knowledgeable attorney.

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