Ammonia Leak Sours OSHA on Citrus Processing Plant

It wasn't the sweet smell of oranges and lemons employees smelled at a Lake Wales, Fla., citrus processing plant last December. It was ammonia, and it sent six workers to the hospital.

Citrosuco North America faces $40,900 in proposed fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after investigators found 41 serious violations of occupational safety and health standards.

"Each of those violations was serious enough that it could result in serious injury or even death if it's not corrected," said Les Grove, area director for the OSHA office in Tampa. "Citrosuco doesn't have a history of serious violations in the last three years," he added, saying the company received a 10 percent reduction in fines because of it.

OSHA inspectors began investigating the company when a seal on a pipe carrying anhydrous ammonia ruptured last year, releasing approximately 10,000 pounds of ammonia. Ammonia is used as a refrigerant at the facility.

The company was cited for failure to install a railing on a ramp, leaving a six-foot drop, failure to place quality control measures on seals of heat exchangers, poor recordkeeping, failing to make shut-off valves accessible in the event of an emergency and lack of proper training, among others.

The company declined comment. Citrosuco has until July 3 to contest the citations and proposed penalties with the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission or to request an informal conference with the area director.

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