The failure of an air-conditioning unit pipe released about 22 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the air at the Russel Stover Candies Inc.’s Iola, Kansas facility on Sept. 23, 2015, setting off alarms and sending hundreds of workers scrambling for safety.

The evacuation was successful and no workers were injured in the incident, which closed the plant for more than two hours.

PSM violations uncovered

OSHA’s investigation into the toxic release found violations of process safety management standards which contain requirements for the management processes using highly hazardous chemicals. One such chemical is anhydrous ammonia, widely used as a refrigerant in industrial facilities. Ammonia can be a health hazard because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs. It is a flammable vapor, and can be fatal if inhaled.

"When highly hazardous chemicals are not properly controlled there is a potential for an accidental release at any time which could result in a tragedy," said Judy Freeman, the agency’s area director in Wichita. "Employers, such as Russell Stover, who use ammonia and other hazardous chemicals in their production process need to comply with recognized engineering practices, test equipment and train workers on safe operating procedures."

Candymaker gets SVEP status

OSHA cited the company with three repeat, 14 serious and two other-than-serious safety violations. Proposed penalties are $193,600. The agency has also placed Russell Stover in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, Russell Stover Candies is one of the nation's oldest chocolate companies and leading manufacturers of pralines and seasonal candies. The Lindt & Sprüngli Group, a German-based candy manufacturer of the Lindt, Whitman's and Ghirardelli brands, owns Russell Stover Candies.