ATLANTA (AP) — Federal regulators and hotel employees are calling for new safety measures after a worker was found dead inside a walk-in freezer at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta.
Investigators believe Carolyn Mangham spent about 13 hours at temperatures below minus 10 Fahrenheit. Her frozen body was found after her husband called the hotel to report her missing.
Devices should be placed inside the large freezers so that anyone trapped or injured inside could send an alarm directly to hotel security or emergency services, union leaders say.
Hotel employees also want to carry "panic buttons" to alert others to emergencies.
"At the end of the day everyone deserves to go home to their families," said Wanda Brown, who worked with Mangham at the hotel and is president of the Atlanta chapter of the UNITE HERE union.
"We've given our demands to the hotel and we are waiting for a response, but we will not stop asking for these things to be done," Brown said.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing about $12,500 in penalties for a serious safety violation in the death of Mangham, 61, who also went by Carolyn Robinson.
In a Sept. 23 letter, OSHA recommended that the Atlanta hotel voluntarily develop a system of "notification and ongoing communication" for workers entering the walk-in freezers. The agency also recommends the hotel develop a system to periodically check on employees during their shifts.
"The OSHA report is part of an ongoing process and we are planning to contest their findings and recommendations," Carrie Bloom, a Starwood spokeswoman, said in a statement Wednesday night.
OSHA's recommendations apply only to the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, and not to the larger Westin company or its parent firm, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which was acquired last week by Marriott International for $13 billion, creating the world's largest hotel company.
But there's no reason these safety upgrades shouldn't be done all over, Diego Parra, a spokesman for UNITE HERE, said Thursday.
"As long as workers are safe — that's what we care about," said Parra, whose union represents 270,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada in industries such as hospitality, gaming, airline catering and food service.
Mangham was found on March 22 after her husband became concerned when she didn't return home from work. He called a hotel manager, who then began checking surveillance video. The video captured her entering the freezer the night before and never leaving, the Fulton County Medical Examiner said in its autopsy report.
In the two days after she was found dead, more than 30 tests of the exit device on the inside of the door were conducted, and the door opened properly each time, hotel spokeswoman Sally McDonald said in a statement March 24.
However, a follow-up inspection in April "proved the button to malfunction," the autopsy report states. On that day, an OSHA inspector and a hotel employee allowed the door to close as part of the test, and they became trapped. They had to pound on the door to let people outside know they couldn't get out.
The autopsy report lists her manner of death as undetermined with the notation: "Found in freezer; malfunctioning exit release button."
Employees also want the hotel to remove cooler No. 11, which has been padlocked and unused since her death.
"We'd like it to be removed from the hotel," Brown said. "We'd rather not have a reminder of Ms. Carolyn."