OSHA cited Tri-State Plant Food Inc. and proposed penalties totaling $94,500 following a hazardous ammonia release at the company''s Dothan, Ala., plant.
The leak occurred on April 11 due to a break in the piping system used to transfer ammonia from a 12,000 gallon storage tank into the plant where it is used in the manufacture of fertilizer.
"The leak at Tri-State''s Dothan facility lasted about five hours and released approximately 5,500 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the atmosphere," said Lana Graves, OSHA''s Mobile area director. "The number of injuries could have been astronomical if the wind hadn''t cooperated and carried the ammonia cloud away from the plant and Dothan''s Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team hadn''t evacuated plant personnel and approximately 1,000 residents living within a four-mile radius of the plant."
During inspection of the accident, OSHA found that the crack in the piping system that resulted in the ammonia release was caused by fatigue and overload failure.
Tri-State was cited and fined $3,500 for failing to provide stabilizers and supports for the system.
The remaining $91,000 in penalties was proposed for 39 additional serious violations, including inadequate programs and procedures for process safety management, safe handling of ammonia, confined space entry, and lockout/tagout functions which render machinery inoperable during maintenance and repair.
Some other hazards cited as serious involved deficiencies related to machine guarding, electrical hazard safeguards, installation of guardrails, personal protective equipment, alarms systems and safety showers.
"This company failed to take numerous required safety precautions to ensure that workers were not placed at risk," said Graves. "Having a good safety program in place and operative benefits the employer as well as his employees. Tri-State was lucky this time -- only one elderly resident was hospitalized for observation. Hopefully, these citations and the accompanying penalties will be a wake-up call so that ammonia leaks and other potential accidents will be averted in the future."
Tri-State, which employs about 45 workers, has 15 days to contest OSHA''s citation and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
by Virginia Sutcliffe