Twenty years ago today, a fast-moving fire at the Imperial Foods chicken processing plant killed 25 and injured 54 of the 90 workers in the plant. Although I think egress conditions and awareness have improved in the last 20 years, there’s definitely room for continued improvement. I frequently receive photos of appalling egress and fire door modifications, including some photos that I received this week of an office building exit that was blocked for construction, leaving only one exit for a 7-story office building. I’ll post those photos here soon.
An NFPA report on the Imperial Foods fire reads, in part:
“Every few years, a tragic fire like the one at the Imperial Foods Processing Plant focuses attention on the issue of exiting problems. Unsafe security measures, such as deadbolting exit doors, are often the reason for such problems. Since crime is perceived as a more immediate threat than fire, public safety officials have a difficult time convincing people not to use unsafe security measures. In fact, a 1986 study revealed that one of every six workplaces keeps its entry or gate locked during work hours. Among establishments that employ more than 50 people, the proportion rises to one of every four.”
The photo below from the FEMA investigative report on the fire at Imperial Foods, clearly illustrates the desperate attempts of workers to escape through this locked door. The door eventually opened and allowed several workers to exit, but 25 others lost their lives, in large part due to locked and blocked exit doors (additional photos on OSHA.gov). In fact, the North Carolina Deputy Commissioner of Insurance, stated after an investigation that technically “There was not a single door in the plant that met the criteria of a fire exit.” (Check the end of this post for a link to a recent article.)
Locked, blocked exits blamed in chicken plant fire deaths – LA Times – 9/17/91
When you see a blocked exit or a propped-open fire door, bring it to someone’s attention. If you’re not comfortable approaching the property manager directly, I’ll be happy to do it for you.
UPDATE: An interesting article was published in the Charlotte Observer yesterday, regarding OSHA inspections and enforcement. It sounds to me like OSHA should add a requirement for fire and egress door inspections to their requirements. Now, how to get OSHA’s attention?