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Companies cited for ammonia safety failures

USA: A leading frozen food manufacturer and its refrigeration maintenance supplier face health and safety charges, including failing to provide adequate ammonia safety training. 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Schwan’s Global Supply Chain Inc, which manufactures frozen foods sold under several brand names, including Red Baron pizza and Mrs Smith’s desserts, for 32 serious safety and health violations at its Atlanta facility. Two other companies providing maintenance and staffing services for Schwan’s – Cimco Refrigeration Inc and Adecco USA Inc – were cited for 18 safety and health violations.

OSHA inspectors found that the employers did not provide adequate training for employees to work safely with ammonia, the refrigerant used in its refrigeration systems. The employers were also cited for exposing workers to unguarded machines and damaging noise levels, and for failure to provide properly fitted personal protective equipment. OSHA initiated the inspection at Schwan’s facility in September 2013, following a worker complaint. OSHA’s citations carry $185,700 in penalties for Schwan’s.

The inspection found that Schwan’s exposed workers to dangerous conditions, many created by the company’s failure to follow the OSHA Process Safety Management Standard to protect workers from dangerous exposure to ammonia used in the refrigeration system. The employer was cited for failing to ensure that doors to the ammonia handling machinery fit properly, created a chemical hazard and failed to provide training on safe work practices applicable to the ammonia refrigeration systems used at the facility. Schwan’s was cited for blocked and mismarked exits in hazardous areas, failure to train workers on controlling hazardous energy through standard lockout/tagout procedures during maintenance and services, and exposing workers to electrical hazards. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The Minnesota-based company employs approximately 14,000 employees nationwide. The Atlanta facility, which produces dough, cookies and pie crusts for popular products, employs approximately 494 workers.

Refrigeration maintenance

Cimco provided service and maintenance for the ammonia refrigeration system at Schwan’s Atlanta facility. It was cited for six serious safety and health violations, carrying penalties of $20,160. The violations were cited for exposing contract workers to excessive noise levels by failing to implement a noise monitoring program. Cimco also failed to provide necessary training, properly fitted respirators and clearly marked exits.

OSHA inspectors found that temporary workers in Schwan’s facility, employed by the Adecco staffing agency, were also exposed to hazards. These included noise and unguarded machines and platforms, which created a fall hazard. As a result, OSHA cited Adecco for 12 serious safety and health violations, carrying penalties of $58,500. Adecco maintains an office at the Schwan’s facility and provides labor and management of the on-site workforce.

The companies have 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission.

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