OSHANebraska Cold Storage Inc. has been cited for 14 safety violations and fined $132,800 by OSHA for exposing workers to anhydrous ammonia at its Hastings facility. The company has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

"Ammonia is considered a high health hazard because it can be corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs. It is flammable at varying concentrations," said Bonita Winingham, OSHA's area director in Omaha. "Businesses that handle hazardous materials must take precautions to protect workers from exposure to chemicals, explosions and fire hazards."

The March inspection was initially conducted under OSHA's high-hazard local emphasis program. It expanded to include all items within the agency's national emphasis program for process safety management for covered chemical facilities.

Nebraska Cold Storage Inc.  describes itself as "the Midwest's top provider for the frozen, refrigerated, and perishable food industries" on its website. Its customers include Tyson Foods and ConAgra.

Four willful violations were cited. Some involve PSM violations, including the failure to develop and implement written, safe operating and mechanical integrity procedures and measures to take for physical contact or airborne exposure to anhydrous ammonia. The remaining violations involve failing to correct deficiencies in equipment and to document responses to 2010 compliance audit findings, including 12 of 22 deficient audit items that remained uncorrected. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for, or plain indifference to, employee safety and health.

A total of 10 serious safety violations include lack of emergency action planning; failing to maintain the original ammonia refrigeration systems process hazard analysis; exposing workers to crushing hazards by failing to remove and/or repair damaged storage racks; and failing to evaluate the performance of a powered industrial truck operator every three years. The other violations include failing to prevent electrocution from ice buildup encasing electrical junction boxes; operating equipment within 30 inches of a fork truck charging station; and install fixed wiring and provide strain relief for power cords. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. The current citations may be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Nebraska_Cold_Storage.pdf*

OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.