The possibility of being trapped in the subzero conditions of a walk-in freezer may be the last thing anyone ever considers. That is, until they somehow become trapped inside one, because that safety latch that is located on the door that everyone assumed was working, now isn’t. With no way of getting anyone’s attention on the outside, this could leave the employee unattended until a coworker either realizes the person is missing or enters the cold room and finds someone inside.

What your employees need to know about walk-in freezers

Communication is key. Your employees can minimize the risk of someone being trapped simply by talking to each other. Before workers enter the freezer or cold storage room, require them to notify coworkers of their plan, and for how long they will be inside.

When an employee is trapped inside the cold storage room, the time to act is now—before frostbite or cold stress set in. People start to feel the effects of the cold temperature in the extremities in about five minutes.

Can the door be opened from the inside? Cal/OSHA requires every cold storage room to have at least one door that opens from the inside, or a release mechanism that opens a lock on the outside of the door.

If the door won’t open, is there any other way out? Unless a series of other steps are taken, Cal/OSHA requires a firefighter’s axe to be placed inside the freezer near the door. This allows the trapped worker to cut their way out. Even if you meet the exceptions allowed by Cal/OSHA, having the axe is still a good idea in case no other method works.

What about a cell phone? Sometimes the signal within a cold storage room can be weak, but unknown to most—you can still make a phone call even with a weak signal; so it would still be a good practice to bring your cellphone with you when you enter the cold storage room.

Meanwhile, warm clothing is necessary, including hats and gloves. Feet, head, toes, ears, and nose should all be covered. Also, expect the floor to be slippery due to the frozen conditions. Non-slip shoes are another necessity. Always wear the appropriate clothing when entering a cold storage room, even if only for a short period of time.

What your employees need to do to before and after entering a walk-in freezer

Start by notifying coworkers of the plan to enter the room and for how long. Those coworkers should then regularly check on their fellow employee and to make sure that the freezer door hasn’t locked.

The worker or workers entering the room should take time to put on warm clothing and put a door stop in place to prop the door open.

In the event a worker is trapped inside, that person should:

  • Try to open the door from the inside or activate the lock release mechanism.
  • If that doesn’t work, use a cell phone to call for help. If the signal is weak, try calling anyway; and maybe walk around the room to see if the signal improves.
  • If all else fails, use the firefighter’s axe to cut through the door or wall and get to safety.

What to cover at your safety meeting about walk-in freezers

Demonstrate how employees can become trapped inside the freezer and discuss with your employees how the cold can affect their ability to move.

Other steps to include:

  • The proper procedure for a worker to notify employees when entering the cold storage room.
  • The steps employees must follow to regularly check on an employee that has entered the cold room.
  • A demonstration on how to open the door from the inside or use of the lock release mechanism.
  • Remind employees to bring a cell phone inside the cold room.
  • For cases where the door won’t open, make sure employees are trained how to use the firefighter’s axe so they can cut their way out.
  • Review your emergency response plan so everyone knows what to do in case someone is trapped.

Being trapped in cold storage room can be catastrophic. Make sure your employees know the hazards and the proper procedures before entering. This way, they're better prepared not only for the conditions inside the room, but also how to act in case anyone becomes trapped inside.