Alabama Company Cited for Ammonia Leak that Sickened 152 Workers

In August 2010, anhydrous ammonia leaked out of a 12-inch pipe located on the roof of a Millard Refrigerated Services facility, due to hydraulic shock within the pipe.

OSHA has cited Millard Refrigerated Services Inc. in Theodore, Ala., with 16 alleged safety and health violations following an incident in which 152 workers were overcome by ammonia vapors. Proposed penalties total $52,500.

In August 2010, anhydrous ammonia leaked out of a 12-inch pipe located on the roof of the Millard Refrigerated Services facility, due to hydraulic shock within the pipe. A failure of a suction header inside the facility on one of the evaporators to a blast freezer also occurred at approximately the same time. The company became aware of the leak on the roof when a crane operator was overcome by vapors and fell down while evacuating his crane cab on board a ship that was being loaded by Millard. The ammonia vapors also carried across the ship canal to a site being used by Patriot Environmental and BP workers for decontamination of equipment used in the cleanup of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. One hundred fifty-two workers from several companies went to the hospital for ammonia vapor exposure, 31 were admitted and four were placed in the intensive care unit.

The company is being cited with seven serious safety and one serious health violation with $45,500 in proposed penalties. Four of the safety violations related to the incident include failure to consider hazard analysis from previous incidents; ensure an emergency shutdown would be executed in a timely and safe manner; train workers in process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals; and investigate the contributing factors to an incident that could have resulted in a catastrophic event. Other safety violations include deficiencies with ladders, respiratory protection and emergency response. The health violation is related to a lack of respirator use and training during emergency response.

Seven other-than-serious violations are being cited with $7,000 in proposed penalties for failing to properly fill out the OSHA 300 log. An additional other-than-serious violation, with no proposed penalty, is for failing to conduct a periodic inspection of the energy control procedures.

In January 2007, OSHA inspected the Millard facility in Theodore and issued citations for process safety management violations. In 2008, process safety management violations also were cited at Millard's North Carolina plant.

"This incident demonstrates the importance of employers with process safety management covered processes, such as anhydrous ammonia refrigeration, to have an effective safety program. Such a program must include thorough investigations of all mishaps and chemical releases to identify causal factors and prevent recurrence," said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA's area director in Mobile. "Additionally, it is imperative that employers have efficient emergency response procedures in place to ensure the protection of responding personnel and quick containment of the chemical release."

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