Dry ice produces carbon dioxide in freezer

Dangerous levels kill repairman

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited two Boston employers — Dick’s Last Resort of Boston, a restaurant, and BALCO, a refrigeration and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning repair company — for alleged serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act following the death in June of a BALCO repairman.

The repairman was overcome by carbon dioxide while repairing a walk-in freezer at the restaurant.

OSHA has proposed a total of $77,000 in penalties against the two employers. According to Brenda Gordon, OSHA area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts, a restaurant employee discovered the repairman unconscious in the closed walk-in freezer on June 12, 1999. Nine 55-pound blocks of dry ice had been placed in the freezer to lower temperatures and help preserve food while the freezer was being repaired. As the blocks evaporated, dangerous levels of carbon dioxide built up in the closed freezer and overcame the repairman, who died the next day.

The citations address each employer’s alleged failure to adequately protect its own employees against excess levels of carbon dioxide.

"The inspection found that both companies allowed their employees to enter an atmosphere that posed an immediate danger to life and health due to excess carbon dioxide levels inside the freezer and that they allowed the workers to do so without appropriate respiratory protection, without adequate training to recognize the hazard posed by the dry ice and carbon dioxide, and without stationing an employee outside the freezer to monitor and provide assistance to the worker inside," Gordon says.

"In addition, the restaurant was also cited for not posting a danger tag on the freezer, lack of a hazard communication program, and failing to address how outside contractor employees would be informed of hazardous materials and conditions and appropriate safeguards," she adds.

Ventilation and monitoring required

Gordon noted that feasible methods of addressing these types of hazards can include mechanical ventilation of the work space; the use of respiratory protection by employees; continuous atmospheric monitoring of the work area; and continuous visual, voice, or signal monitoring of employees in the work space.

"A case such as this shows in the strongest terms why safety standards are important and why it is necessary that they be followed," she says.

The specific citations and alleged failures are:

- Dick’s Last Resort of Boston faces $49,000 in proposed penalties for seven alleged serious violations:

1. failure to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm in that an employee who entered the freezer was exposed to carbon dioxide gas in excess of the immediately dangerous to life and health concentration of 40,000 ppm;

2. failure to supply the employee with an appropriate respirator;

3. failure to ensure that a second employee was stationed outside the freezer whenever an employee entered it, in order to monitor, provide assistance and maintain communication with the first employee;

4. failure to post a danger tag on the freezer;

5. lack of a written hazard communication program;

6. failure to address how outside contractor employees would be informed of on-site hazardous materials and conditions and necessary precautionary measures;

7. failure to train employees were not trained on how to recognize and protect themselves from carbon dioxide hazards.

- BALCO faces $28,000 in proposed penalties for four alleged serious violations:

1. failure to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards;

2. failure to supply the employee with an appropriate respirator;

3. failure to ensure that a second employee was stationed outside the freezer whenever an employee entered it, in order to monitor, provide assistance, and maintain communication with the first employee;

4. failure to train employees to recognize and protect themselves against the hazards of carbon dioxide gas and vapor.

A serious violation is defined by OSHA as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.