Stavis Seafoods fined for ammonia leak that killed one worker

Stavis Seafoods has been levied fines surpassing six figures for safety violations discovered after an ammonia leak in March at its cold storage warehouse in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. killed one of its employees.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) announced total fines of USD 173,168 (EUR 154,232) for 20 different infractions found at the warehouse, including an improperly installed cooling system and a non-functioning alarm system in the machine room, the governmental organization announced in a press release on Friday, 30 September.

“The company’s failure to follow industry and OSHA standards exposed its employees to the hazards of an ammonia release as well as falls, electric shock, hazardous chemicals, and delayed or obstructed exit from the facility during a leak or other emergency,’’ James Mulligan, the OSHA acting area director for Boston and Southeastern Massachusetts, said in the statement.

According to OSHA, Stavis Seafoods failed to:

  • Ensure proper containment of ammonia within the machine room in that there were large floor holes and no door to separate the machine room from a maintenance/storage room and prevent the spread of ammonia vapor.
  • Test and calibrate ammonia sensors following the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Establish and implement an adequate inspection schedule for pressure vessels.
  • Label ammonia piping properly.
  • Provide a ventilation system sufficient to prevent possible combustion or explosion of ammonia vapors resulting from an ammonia release.

OSHA's inspection identified several other problematic conditions, exposed employees to the hazards of:

  • Falls due to insufficiently guarded door openings, lack of roof guardrails, defective ladders and an unmarked door leading to a 17-foot drop.
  • Impeded or blocked exit routes stemming from inadequately stored equipment and sheets of plywood and building materials and equipment stored near the exit door.
  • An incomplete inventory of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace, unlabeled containers of hazardous chemicals and not providing adequate chemical hazard communication training to employees.
  • Several electrical hazards including improper use of electrical wiring and equipment, and the use of extension cords in place of permanent wiring.

As a result of the March ammonia leak, which resulted from a burst pipe, employee Brian Caron was overcome by the noxious fumes and died. Four other Stavis employees escaped the gas leak.

This is not the first time Stavis Seafoods has been fined by OSHA for workplace safety violations. In 2009, OSHA cited Stavis for six violations resulting in fines of USD 15,750 (EUR 14,031), according to the Boston Globe.

Speaking to the Assocated Press, Stavis Seafoods officials declined to say whether the company would contest the findings. But CEO Richard Stavis told the AP the company has since taken measures to improve its practices, including retaining an independent safety and compliance consultant and permanently closing the facility where the accident occurred.


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