oshaUSA: An Idaho-based frozen food manufacturer has been fined $273,000 following a potentially lethal release of 1,300lbs (590kg) of ammonia refrigerant.

The US Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration claimed Dickinson Frozen Foods failed to safeguard employees and was unprepared to respond to the ammonia release which occurred on December 1, 2015.

While no one died or suffered injury in the incident, other major ammonia releases at Dickinson Frozen Foods Inc have hospitalised employees at the Sugar City facility in the past. In its review of the latest incident, federal investigators found the company lacked adequate emergency response programme and training, and failed to equip employees with protective clothing and respirators.

OSHA investigators issued 19 serious and two wilful citations following December’s hazardous release and fined Dickinson a total of $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,” claimed the OSHA’s Boise area director David Kearns. “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.”

The numerous violations cited by the OSHA included employees being exposed to liquid ammonia without chemical protective clothing and entering a potentially life-threatening atmosphere without self-contained breathing apparatus. Employees were also said to have not been medically evaluated to wear respirators and being untrained on the facility’s emergency response plan.

The OSHA said investigators had 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 facility in Sugar City employs over 220 workers, who process, clean, blanch and freeze potatoes before ultimately inspecting and shipping them for downstream distribution. The company sells processed potatoes for use in consumer items such as frozen dinners.

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.