The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced on May 31 that it has found an Idaho frozen potato products manufacturer failed to safeguard employees and was unprepared to respond to a potentially lethal release of 1,300 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia on December 1, 2015.
While no one died or suffered injury in the incident, other major ammonia releases at Dickinson Frozen Foods’ Sugar City facility reportedly hospitalized employees in the past. In its review of the latest incident, federal investigators found the company lacked adequate emergency response and training programs, and failed to equip workers with protective clothing and respirators.
OSHA issued 19 serious and two willful citations following the hazardous chemical release and fined the company $273,000. A recent OSHA investigation after the incident uncovered dozens of hazards related to emergency response, respiratory protection and process safety management of hazardous materials violations.
“It’s a miracle no Dickinson Frozen Foods employees were killed or hurt last year,” said David Kearns, OSHA area director in Boise. “We’re confident that workers at the facility will be much better protected by tightened safety procedures the company has agreed to institute should another release occur.”
Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas with a distinctively pungent odor that is widely used in agricultural and industrial refrigeration systems. The ammonia vapor is severely irritating and can easily damage one’s eyes and respiratory tract. Mixtures with certain other chemicals can produce violent reactions and explosions.
OSHA found numerous violations during its inspection, including:
- The facility failed to maintain a “process safety management plan” that spells out a framework for any use, storage, handling or movement of highly hazardous chemicals.
- Employees exposed to liquid ammonia without chemical protective clothing.
- Employees entered a potentially life-threatening atmosphere without self-contained breathing apparatus.
- Employees were not medically evaluated or fit tested to wear respirators.
- Employees untrained on the facility’s emergency response plan when they were hired and when they changed positions.
- Employees responded to an emergency without proper emergency response training.
- The employer did not evaluate respiratory hazards during the ammonia leak response.
OSHA investigators have inspected Dickinson Frozen Foods facilities several times since 2009, citing the company for serious violations of fall hazards, respiratory hazards, confined space, emergency exits and response procedures.
The Dickinson Frozen Foods operation in Sugar City employs over 220 workers who process, clean, blanch and freeze potatoes before inspecting and shipping them for downstream distribution to further processors for use in consumer items such as frozen dinners and side dishes.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, David Kearns, or contest the finding before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.