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Cargill facing hefty fine for safety ‘failures’

By Mark Astley , 13-Dec-2011

A US meat processor could be hit with a fine of nearly $150,000 for breaching health and safety regulations including those surrounding potentially hazardous chemicals, a statement from workplace safety authorities has revealed.

A citation, proposing fines totalling $146,000 (€110,000), has been sent to Cargill Meat Solutions Corp by the US Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The proposed fines relate to 23 “serious” alleged process safety management and fall protection failings at the company’s Milwaukee ground beef production plant.

These “serious” violations, where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could results, also included several surrounding the use of the hazardous chemical ammonia.

The official citation detailed each of the violations, with proposed penalties for each failure ranging from $5,500 to $7,000.

Serious danger

“Failing to follow process safety management procedures when using hazardous chemicals such as ammonia can put workers in serious danger,” said OSHA’s George Yoksas in a statement released by the authority.

“It is unacceptable for employers not to ensure that work environments are healthful and safe.”

The violations include failing to develop normal operating procedures for the start-up of ammonia refrigeration systems and failing to develop training procedures for routine tasks.

Cargill also failed to implement procedures to maintain processing equipment.

“The employer did not identify within Process Safety Information (PSI) safety systems and devices such as but not limited to cut out devices, high level and low level sensors, ammonia detectors, high and low level pressure devices and emergency stop buttons,” one OSHA violation citation said.

Other violations related to piping and equipment inspection and testing, failing to provide a guard on an open-side floor and several involving the use of ammonia.

The company, which has been given 15 days to comply with or contest the findings, stated that there were no employee injuries, ammonia releases or food safety issues associated with the alleged violations.

According to a company representative, the alleged violations focus primarily on documentation.

Hazardous chemicals

Meat processors that use 10,000lbs or more of ammonia in the refrigeration process must comply with the Process Safety Management Standard, 29 CFR 1910.119.

Ammonia is considered a high health hazard because it can be corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs.

A lack of process safety management in an industry that uses hazardous chemicals could results in the release of toxic materials, OSHA guidelines state.

“Regardless of the industry that uses these highly hazardous chemicals, there is a potential for an accidental release any time they are not properly controlled, creating the possibility of disaster,” according to the OSHA website.

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