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Workers complain about toxic exposure at food plant

Owners of facilities in Iowa at which anhydrous ammonia is used in refrigeration mechanisms must take particular care to avoid leaks of this dangerous gas. Even small leaks can cause toxic exposure that can threaten the lives of employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently proposed fines totaling $72,000 for such safety violations committed by a food distributor in another state.

The leak reportedly occurred on Oct. 21, 2015, but OSHA only learned about it when complaints were received from workers at the facility. Although there were no grave consequences because the leak was relatively small, workers were concerned about the lack of concern by management and the ongoing danger. The refrigeration unit uses 27,500 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, and although only nine pounds of ammonia leaked, it could have been catastrophic.

OSHA inspectors determined that valves and ammonia sensors to detect leaks were not properly maintained and monitored. When the leak occurred, the sensor failed to activate the alarm. Also, no response protocol was in place for events or emergencies. OSHA reported that this company was identified as a violator of similar safety regulations on two previous occasions.

The consequences of toxic exposure can be life-changing and may even prevent a victim from returning to work in that environment. Although Iowa workers are entitled to pursue financial relief through the workers' compensation insurance system, it might be difficult to prove that health problems are job-related, especially if workers were exposed to low levels of exposure over extended periods. The skills of an experienced workers' compensation attorney may be invaluable in pursuing fair compensation for medical expenses and lost income.

Source:, "Taunton food service plant fined by OSHA for ammonia leak and alarm failure", Rebecca Hyman, May 9, 2016

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