Emergency exits blocked

Emergency exits blocked by piles of store inventory appears to be a recurring hazard at Forever 21. The fashion retailer's employees at Westfarms Mall in Farmington were among the chain's workers put at risk of not being able to exit the store swiftly because of fire or another emergency, OSHA inspectors determined after receiving a complaint.

"Emergency exits and hallways were blocked by store inventory. Boxes were unsafely stacked, which created serious safety threats," said Warren Simpson, OSHA area director in the Hartford Area Office. "Four stockroom employees were assigned to work in these conditions. At the time of the inspection, they were working around the clock before Black Friday, when inventory levels were higher."

During the November 2014 inspection, boxes were stored in the hallway leading from the retail space to an emergency exit, which reduced the exit to 23 inches of passable space. Required space for exits is a minimum of 28 inches. Additionally, the emergency exit routes were obstructed by piles of boxes as high as 10 feet. Boxes were stored unstably and could fall and injure workers.

Forever 21 employees have been exposed to these dangers previously. OSHA has conducted 37 inspections of company stores in the past five years. It cited the women's fashion retailer 12 times for similar hazards, including stores in Bridgewater, New Jersey, in 2012 and Burlington, Massachusetts, in 2013.

Due to the recurring nature of these hazards, OSHA has cited Forever 21 Retail Inc. for three repeated violations.

Proposed fines total $165,000 for the conditions at the Westfarms Mall store.

"The company's corporate office is responsible for safety and health requirements at retail locations nationwide, yet it allows these hazards to occur repeatedly," said Simpson. "Forever 21 must take steps to address these types of hazards effectively at its stores."