OSHA closes investigation on two reports of gas fumes that forced Potsdam Walmart to evacuate, turn off heat
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 5:26 pm

JIMMY LAWTON

POTSDAM -- A problem with the heating system at Walmart forced an evacuation Feb. 4 and led to an inquiry from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Problems began Feb. 3 when the Potsdam Volunteer Fire Department was called to the scene to investigate a "propane smell."

Potsdam Volunteer Fire Chief Timothy Jerome said Walmart was given the "go ahead" to continue operations following a brief investigation. However, firefighters returned to the scene at 1 a.m. Feb. 4 for a similar complaint.

At that time, Jerome said the building was evacuated and ventilated before employees could return to work. In order to continue operations Walmart had to turn off its heating system.

Jerome said he advised Walmart to shut down since it could not use its heating system or operate its cooking facilities, but the store remained open, the chief said.

"I told them they should probably shut down because they didn't have heat," he said.

OSHA Northern Syracuse Director Chris Adams said a complaint was made to his department.

He said the notification claimed employees worked in the store with a strong gas order and that some workers were sent home due to headaches and nausea.

The accuser also claimed that employees worked in the facility without heat. Adams said the complaint was received Monday, Feb. 4 and Walmart responded Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Adams shared Walmart's response, which confirmed the store was evacuated early Monday morning, but contradicted the claim that associates were sent home.

In its response, Walmart said space heaters were used to warm areas that employees were working in.

Adams said it is important to note that all complaints received by OSHA are taken verbatim and brought to the accused party.

"This comes in as allegations. This is not a finding of facts," he said.

He said the notice must be displayed in view of the company's employees and a response must be issued with in five days.

Adams said Walmart responded the following day.

"They got back to us pretty quick," he said. "We feel Walmart has addressed the issues and we are closing the investigation," he said.

Walmart could not be immediately reached for comment. An employee at the Potsdam location said he could not speak with the press and directed calls to voice mailbox for media inquiries.

Messages left to Walmart last week went unanswered.