Federal authorities have accused a Brooklyn, N.Y., supermarket of creating a potential safety hazard by locking in its night-shift employees, and refusing to let the workers exit without permission from a manager.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the Mermaid Meat Co., operating as Fine Fare Supermarket, with five safety violations that could lead to fines totaling $62,300.

The agency characterized the locked door violation as “willful,” its most severe category. OSHA said the company created “an imminent danger situation” by putting padlocks on all five of the store’s exits that could not be opened without a manager’s key.

OSHA regulation dictates that employees “must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge.”

David Michaels, the OSHA chief, said in a news release that the violations at the market, located in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, evoked “conditions from 1911,” an allusion to the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 garment workers. Many of those who died could not escape because of locked exits and stairwells.

“A century later, we still find employers locking in their employees or otherwise obstructing emergency exit access,” said Michaels, adding that such situations are “potential catastrophes in the making.”

A lawyer for the store told NBC New York that OSHA is mistaken and that there were open exits. The business will have until early next month to comply with, or challenge, the citations, or to seek a conference with the agency.

Companies, including the giant retailer Wal-Mart, discovered locking in night-shift workers often say they do so to protect employees from intruders in high-crime areas.


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