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Seafood processor facing heavy fine for alleged safety breaches

By Rory Harrington , 16-Jul-2010

A US seafood processing company is facing fines totalling US$279,000 after being accused by federal authorities of flouting more than a dozen health and safety regulations.

American Seafoods International LLC has been cited for 15 alleged “wilful and serious violations” relating to its process safety management (PSM) programme at its processing plant in New Bedford, Massachusetts by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A wilful violation is defined as “one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health”, said the body.

A PSM is a detailed set of requirements and procedures that must be followed to tackle hazards associated with processes and equipment that use large amounts of dangerous chemicals – in this case anhydrous ammonia in the facility’s refrigeration system.

Death or serious harm

OSHA inspectors said the company’s PSM programme was “incomplete, lacked operating procedures and did not provide for adequate inspections of process equipment”. The agency said the shortfalls led it to issue proposed fines for $195,000. The checks also led to 12 other serious citations that carried proposed fines of $84,000 – including a failure to update process safety information and not investigating an ammonia leak in 2001.

OSHA said it issues serious citations when “death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known”.

"The requirements of OSHA's PSM standard are stringent and comprehensive because an ammonia leak could have a severe or catastrophic effect on the plant's workers," said Brenda Gordon, the body’s area director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts. "In this case, American Seafoods International knew that aspects of its PSM program were incomplete or inadequate and did not take steps to address those deficiencies. It is imperative that this employer scrutinize, update and properly maintain each element of the process to minimize hazards and protect its workers' safety and health."

American Seafoods has 15 working days to comply with the citations or appeal against the charges.

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