Walk-in Safety: Interior Release Mechanisms

Walk-in Freezer and Cooler Safety

Walk-in coolers and freezers are must-have pieces of equipment for many commercial foodservice operations, but cold temperatures and locking doors can pose some risks to employees. Fortunately, an interior safety feature provided on any walk-in you purchase today can help keep your employees safe. Learn more about this aspect of walk-in cooler and freezer safety below.

When Walk-ins Can Be Dangerous

As recently as 2016, foodservice workers accidentally becoming trapped in walk-in freezers1 has resulted in fatalities. In one of those deadly incidents, the person unable to escape the walk-in was also exposed to carbon dioxide fumes released by dry ice2 being stored there; dry ice is sometimes used during power outages to prevent food loss, but this can be dangerous and even fatal in spaces like walk-ins that do not have proper ventilation to handle the amount of carbon dioxide being released. In other scenarios, workers have been intentionally locked inside walk-ins when their places of employment were being robbed.3

OSHA Requirements for Walk-in Doors

OSHA regulation 1910.36(d)(1)4 requires in part that, "Employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge." To comply with this, manufacturers include an interior release mechanism on walk-in cooler and freezer doors that is designed to allow anyone inside the unit to open the door if it becomes locked. Although the mechanism differs between manufacturers, the typical design enables the person to unscrew the locking system and push the door open. This mechanism may glow in the dark or be marked by a light directly above it so it is easier to find in a dark walk-in.

Since many of the recent stories about walk-in fatalities occurred in units with a broken or malfunctioning interior release mechanism, it's important to make this safety feature as effective as possible by informing employees about using it and implementing procedures to ensure it is maintained in working order. New employees should always be shown the location of the mechanism and given a demonstration of how to use it; if an employee is unable to use the interior release mechanism, you may wish to instruct them to ask another employee to accompany them when entering the walk-in freezer. You should also periodically check the emergency exit device to ensure it is not stuck, iced over, or otherwise malfunctioning in a way that would prevent it from failing in a critical situation.

  1. Trapped: Deaths inside freezers can be prevented, but how?. AP News. Accessed April 2018.
  2. What is Dry Ice?. New York State Department of Health. Accessed April 2018.
  3. Masked man robs Chipotle restaurant in Orange at gunpoint, locks employees in freezer. Joshua Sudock. The Orange County Register. Accessed April 2018.
  4. Occupational Safety and Health Standards. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Accessed April 2018.